Fireflies in the Garden (2008)
An all-star ensemble cast and all the good intentions in the world cannot save this messy indie family drama from oblivion, despite a strong lead performance from a very natural Ryan Reynolds. The problems are many, but the most important one is the annoying alternation of underwritten and overwritten characters and relations, chiefly represented by the strained relationship between the Reynolds character and his father, played by Willem Dafoe – which is the thematic core of the film.
There is some strong writing early on here, in which we're given peeks at the inner workings of a family's dysfunction, caused by the shortcomings of the moody and unloving father. This leads us to another shortcoming, namely writer/director Dennis Lee's inability to develop his characters, and particularly the father, in a realistic and convincing manner, instead resorting to plot-driven melodrama for cheap effect. There are also a number of loose ends here; plot devices and suggestions which are never followed-up on (for instance the unspoken nature of the relationship between the Reynolds character and his cousin). And the lead character's stagnation, ostensibly sacrificed by Lee for the sake of Dafoe's "development", makes the film thematically unfulfilled, bordering on annoying, with an ending as unrewarding as anything I can remember in this sub-genre for quite some time. Several of the bit players do fine work, but director Lee never gives them the time or support that their efforts warrant.