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Fireflies in the Garden is a 2008 drama starring Julia Roberts and Ryan Reynolds. Written and directed by Dennis Lee, the film premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival.

Fireflies in the Garden is set in the present day, and revolves around three generations of a family, with flash-backs to their growing up. A major focus is on domineering father Charles (Willem Dafoe) and his strained relationships with son Michael (young: Cayden Boyd; adult: Ryan Reynolds), sister-in-law Jane (young: Hayden Panettiere; adult: Emily Watson) and other family members.

A terrible accident on the way to a family reunion with Charles and wife Lisa (Julia Roberts) at Jane's house, and the ensuing funeral set the scene for Michael to discover/uncover much about the inner lives and affairs of this family and finding a route to reconciliation.


Set in the present with extensive flash-backs to the past, this film revolves around three generations of domineering father Charles (Willem Dafoe) family, his wife Lisa (Julia Roberts), their two children: son Michael (young: Cayden Boyd; adult: Ryan Reynolds) and daughter Ryne (Shannon Lucio), as well as Lisa's (much younger) sister Jane (young: Hayden Panettiere; adult: Emily Watson), and her son Christopher (Chase Ellison) and daughter Leslie (Brooklynn Proulx) as well as Michael's ex-wife Kelly Hanson (Carrie-Anne Moss).

Charles and Michael had, and still have, a strained relationship, with both pushing the other. In a flash-back to a boyhood car journey, the younger Michael claims to have lost his glasses, while knowing he simply has them in his pocket. Without knowing this deceit, Charles makes Michael walk home in the rain as a punishment. This tit-for-tat of rules, and rule-breaking continues with Charles imposing on all around him, including Jane, who is staying with them. She too hates Charles' domineering nature. The two form a kind of pact against Charles - When Michael embarrasses Charles in front of his colleagues by falsely claiming to have written a poem, Fireflies in the Garden by Robert Frost, he is punished by having to hold his weighted arms horizontal, aching so much that at the end, he cannot even take food to his mouth. Jane feeds him. As they grow older the conflicts escalate, with a growing Michael eventually intervening in a quarrel between his parents, attacking Charles and forcing him to the ground.

A critical dramatic event in the film occurs with a tragic car accident as Charles and Lisa drive to a family reunion at Jane's house in honour of Lisa's college graduation. Driving hurriedly, Charles swerves to avoid colliding with Christopher, who crosses the road carelessly, and their car hits a tree, leaving Lisa dead, Charles injured, and both men feeling guilty.

Michael takes Jane's children Christopher and Leslie "fishing", attempting to cheer them up by exploding the fish with firecrackers, as he had done Jane growing up. Concerned what Charles and Jane will think, he encourages the children to lie to their mother about the trip. As predicted, Charles and Jane consider his behavior inappropriate. Michael's having noisy sex with ex-wife Kelly who arrives for the funeral does not help matters.

The events of the accident and consequent guilt and anxiety see an upset Christopher running away, only to be found by Michael who assures him that he is not to blame for Lisa's death. Christopher insists on walk home alone after their talk, and Michael gives him his cell phone in case he changes his mind. Immediately discarding the phone, Christopher remains missing for several hours, Jane again blaming Michael for leaving Christopher (who is found safely). More revelations and recriminations ensue, as Michael discovers that his late mother was having an affair with her young professor Addison (Ioan Gruffudd), and had planned to leave Charles following her graduation.

The title of the film derives from the name of Michael's book about his childhood - taken from a scene in their lives, where Michael, Christopher and Leslie are having fun in the garden batting fireflies with badminton rackets, in the dark. The revelations of the book concerned Charles and Jane, and in a sense the film see the history of the book told, and then re-written. This is brought home in a scene where the surviving family watching an old home movie, perhaps surprised by the happiness it captures, Charles and Michael reconcile. Michael destroys the manuscript.


Filming locations

The film was shot in Austinmarker (including the University of Texasmarker), Bastropmarker, and Smithvillemarker, Texasmarker. The historic T.marker A.marker Hasler Housemarker in Bastrop was used significantly in the film.


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