A celebration turns to tragedy for the Taylor family. Alarmingly, it’s one of many moments of emotional upheaval that the Taylors have experienced over the years (several of which are told here in flashback) and this latest incident rakes up all those old emotions.
Even more alarmingly, according to writer and director Dennis Lee, it’s a semi-autobiographical tale. While that’s every reason to show the man considerable sympathy, it’s not necessarily reason enough to let him film it, however likeable a lead he’s found. Reynolds is one of the highlights of this overwrought, draining experience. While his comic timing is well documented, there’s a lot more to young Ryan than we all first assumed. The excellent The Nines was perhaps the first indicator, while he also brought some surprising depth to Definitely, Maybe. In Fireflies, as young novelist Michael, he proves himself as, probably, Hollywood’s most versatile leading man.
While now a successful writer, Michael’s early days were coloured by a deeply fractured relationship with his overbearing father Charlie (Dafoe). Fortunately, it wasn’t all strict rules and weird, and frequently cruel, punishment, thanks to his young aunt Jane (Watson or, when in flashback, Panettiere) and his loving mother Lisa (an underused Roberts). However, after a car crash which has left his mother dead and his father a wreck (albeit still overbearing), Michael discovers some unexpected things about both his parents.
Fireflies... is a very well made film. The performances are excellent, particularly Reynolds and Watson, whose chemistry is charming and believable: you’ll happily believe they’ve known each other for 30-odd years. The story isn’t the morass of cliché you might expect either. So why is it so underwhelming? Hard to say really, but internet rumours suggest that there’s a 20 minute longer cut somewhere. Lee then would appear to be a much better writer and director than he is an editor.