It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Although "Citizen Kane" is one of my favorite films, and it shuttles relentlessly between past and present, I'm often uneasy with movies where different actors play the same characters at different times. It helps when the character past and present has obvious distinctions. I lost too much time during "Fireflies in the Garden" reminding myself "This must be young Jane," and suchlike.
It doesn't help when some of the same locations persist over time. Directors have an obligation to include road directions. I followed "The Tree of Life" easily, for example, but am still getting queries from readers not sure who Sean Penn was portraying as an older man.
"Fireflies in the Garden" is a fraught family drama that shows us the same family in past and present, 22 years apart. It might have been more effective if it had followed a chronological order. It opens around the day when the family mother, Lisa Taylor (Julia Roberts), will graduate from college. The celebration is interrupted by a tragedy, and flashbacks lead us into the earlier lives of these people.
The Taylors live in a university town, where Charles (Willem Dafoe) is the cold, demanding father. There's a crucial event when his son Michael (Ryan Reynolds, and Cayden Boyd when younger) recites an "original poem" before his father's colleagues, and the poem turns out to be plagiarized from Robert Frost.