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Fireflies in the Garden


Stars: Julia Roberts, Willem Dafoe, Ryan Reynolds, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Watson, Ioan Gruffudd, Hayden Panettiere

Director: Dennis Lee

More a father-son story than a study of a dysfunctional American family - although it has elements of both - this is a well-knit and solidly acted tale with a trio of good child players supporting the stars.

It starts with a car crash, caused by one of the children, that kills the mother (Roberts) of the family she and her overbearing husband (Dafoe) have come to visit. Also arriving are the couple's son (Reynolds), who has deeply-seared memories of his bullying martinet father, his 10-year-younger sister (Shannon Lucio) and, with the funeral, the estranged ex-alcoholic wife (Moss) he still wants.

We can tell what a tyrant Dafoe is from the long list of rules that must be obeyed in his house, or the way he yells at his wife. 'How can you know how much pressure I've been under?' is not the sort of thing most husbands would say to their wives. So it's all the stranger when Reynolds asks him 'How did we come to this?' when it's plain that the older man has always been the foul-tempered ogre he is.

It turns out that Reynolds has written a 'memoir masquerading as a novel' which will tear the family further apart than ever. And, in view of the 'thanks' to people in the credits whose names parallel those in the film one wonders whether debutant director Lee's screenplay for the movie also contains pages torn from real life.

His script is most quite well couched, too, with only the odd clunky line, as when Reynolds contends that 'nobody's really dead as long as you remember them'. Occasionally slow-paced, this is still a little above the average of its very American kind.

David Quinlan

USA 2007. UK Distributor: Optimum. Technicolor.
98 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: U.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 25 May 2009