If you can swallow Heroes’ Hayden Panettiere growing up to be Emily Watson or the idea that Julia Roberts could be Ryan Reynolds’ mum, chances are you’ll be pleasantly diverted by Dennis Lee’s feature debut.
If the above strikes you as a tad far-fetched, you’d best give this dysfunctional family yarn as wide a berth as Roberts should have the moment someone suggested she be mother to someone only nine years her junior.
To be fair, the notion makes more sense in lengthy flashback sequences that explain how Reynolds’ hero Michael, a bestselling author, came to be so painfully estranged from his tyrannical academic of a father (Willem Dafoe). And anyway, Roberts doesn’t stick around long enough in the present day to labour the point, a lethal car prang turning what should have been a happy reunion into a long weekend of funereal gloom, bitter recriminations and group soul-searching.
With a secret infidelity, a history of abuse and a recovering alcoholic (Carrie Anne-Moss) thrown into the mix, there’s a lot of soap opera to get through before Fireflies reaches its tacit resolution. But the above-average cast lends much-needed conviction to the script’s decade-straddling contortions, helping to offset its contrivances and dialogue that sometimes feels as corny as the fields surrounding Reynolds’ Midwest homestead.
Shorn of his Wolverine swords but displaying the same smart mouth, the Canadian star does well in a role that requires him to internalise years of pent-up rage. But in the end, it’s the precocious Panettiere who leaves the most lasting impression as the young Michael’s aunt – sure to be a revelation to those who only know her as Claire the indestructible cheerleader.
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An impressive ensemble lends heft and humour to this sprawling potboiler. Watchable if never truly memorable, it’s a mid-range work for most involved that still affords the odd guilty pleasure.