Fireflies in the Garden

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Fireflies in the Garden
Fireflies in the garden.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by Dennis Lee
Produced by Sukee Chew
Vanessa Coifman
Marco Weber
Written by Dennis Lee
Starring Ryan Reynolds
Willem Dafoe
Emily Watson
Julia Roberts
Carrie-Anne Moss
Hayden Panettiere
Ioan Gruffudd
Cayden Boyd
Cinematography Daniel Moder
Edited by Dede Allen
Robert Brakey
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • February 10, 2008 (2008-02-10) (Berlin International Film Festival)
  • October 14, 2011 (2011-10-14) (United States)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $8 million
Box office $3,393,161[1]

Fireflies in the Garden is a 2008 American drama film written and directed by Dennis Lee and starring Willem Dafoe, Ryan Reynolds, and Julia Roberts. It premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival and was released theatrically in the United States on October 14, 2011.

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 and his strained relationships with son Michael, sister-in-law Jane and other family members.

A terrible accident on the way to a family reunion with Charles and wife Lisa 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 two generations of an extended family: domineering father, English professor Charles (Willem Dafoe), his wife Lisa (Julia Roberts), their 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), her husband Jimmy (George Newbern), their son Christopher (Chase Ellison) and daughter Leslie (Brooklynn Proulx). Included in the family mix is Michael's ex-wife Kelly (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 road trip, 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 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 is a car crash that occurs as Charles and Lisa drive to a graduation celebration at Jane's house in honor 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, killing Lisa and injuring Charles. Both Charles and Christopher feel guilty for the crash.

Michael attempts to cheer up Jane's children, Christopher and Leslie, by taking them "fishing", exploding the fish with firecrackers, as he had done with Jane growing up. Concerned with 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 having noisy sex with Kelly, who was notified by Jane about 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 walking 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. Jane also discovers, while she and Kelly drive around looking for Christopher, that Kelly is pregnant and that Michael doesn't know. Michael and Kelly reconcile and they announce their news to the family before they leave. While discussing baby names with Ryne and Kelly, Michael mentions that he likes the name Max for a boy, a name previously suggested by Lisa for Ryne, had she been a boy.

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 at night hitting fireflies with badminton rackets, causing the bugs to burst apart in a shower of sparks. 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 is watching an old home movie and, perhaps surprised by the happiness it captures, Charles and Michael begin to reconcile. Michael destroys the manuscript.



The film was shot in Austin (including the University of Texas), Bastrop, and Smithville, Texas. The historic T. A. Hasler House in Bastrop was used significantly in the film.


Javier Navarrete composed the score heard in the European release version, but when it was released in the US in 2011 in a reedited form it received a new score by Jane Antonia Cornish. Both scores received soundtrack albums, Navarrete's by Decca and Cornish's by BSX.

Javier Navarrete soundtrack album[edit]

  1. Town Of Austere 2:52
  2. 11:11 4:07
  3. Fireflies Blinking 1:49
  4. A Swarm Of Silver Fish 5:06
  5. The Light Of A Fire 3:24
  6. Lisa 3:24
  7. The Field Of Gold 5:33
  8. Michael Smiles 2:15
  9. Fireflies In The Garden Suite 8:26
  10. Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A minor, Op.50 - 2. Variations - Vincent Trio 4:23

Jane Antonia Cornish soundtrack album[edit]

  1. Fireflies in the Garden 1:02
  2. Remembering Lisa 1:02
  3. Stay Away from Her 1:37
  4. Chasing Fireflies 1:02
  5. Fishing 1:22
  6. It's My Fault 3:03
  7. Running Away 1:50
  8. I Love You Big 2:16
  9. Sex at a Funeral 1:16
  10. Lisa :57
  11. Paint Cans 1:46
  12. Blowing up Fish 1:08
  13. Tablecloth 1:00
  14. Rules :46
  15. Car Crash 1:02
  16. Looking for Christopher 1:30
  17. Eleven Eleven 1:04
  18. I Love You Bigger 1:20


The film has received mostly negative reviews from critics. It holds a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus saying: "Despite boasting a stellar cast, Fireflies in the Garden is just tedious, dull and predictable melodrama. Instantly forgettable."[2]


  1. ^ "Fireflies in the Garden (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 10, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Fireflies in the Garden (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved Mar 7, 2012. 

External links[edit]