'Fireflies in the Garden' review: For solid family drama, just watch "Parenthood"

RedEye movie critic

*1/2 (out of four)

Ponderously mopey when it’s not foolishly goofy, “Fireflies in the Garden” has all the personality and forward momentum of a cardboard box. The movie’s been on the shelf since 2008 and was apparently shot before Ryan Reynolds developed screen presence. “Garden” stars Mr. Green Lantern as Michael, an author whose professional success has generated absolutely zero happiness thanks to the toxic relationship with his terrible dad (Willem Dafoe) and crumbling relationship with his wife (Carrie-Anne Moss), whose new-found sobriety receives a brief mention and that’s about it. Most of writer-director Dennis Lee’s melodrama focuses on Michael’s tormented adolescence and the present-day death of his mother (Julia Roberts) in a careless car accident, all in a failed effort to make a point about confronting pain in person, not in writing. That’s sort of hypocritical for a film that’s semi-autobiographical. Aside from underwriting nearly all the parts (offering little to supporting players Emily Watson, Hayden Panettiere and Ioan Gruffudd) and ridiculously shooting in Texas despite implying a Chicago-area setting (Michael’s sister is named Ryne, after Sandberg), Lee also over-stylizes tragedy and senselessly drops in cutesy stuff like pinky-swears. The only thing you’ll remember is that Roberts receives noticeable makeup to age her from the flashbacks to the present day, but Dafoe doesn’t. Clearly the makeup department thought he didn’t need it. Ouch.

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