Review: 'The Extinction Of Fireflies' Could Use More Cinematic Spark

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday August 11, 2021

'The Extinction of Fireflies'
'The Extinction of Fireflies'  

Playwright James Andrew Walsh directs his own script for the big screen, a comedy about group of friends gathered at a remote seaside home for a long weekend.

In a meta twist, the friends have come together at the invitation of James, a playwright (Drew Droege), in order to help him hash out a play he's writing about Roman Emperor Hadrian and his much younger male lover. (The title of the play? "The Extinction of Fireflies.") Jay (Michael Urie, "Ugly Betty"), a sweet-natured and comedically clueless actor, gives the script his bet try, but the material is beyond him; James' old friend Charlotte (Tracie Bennett), a has-been star who now plays to a social media audience, is more interested in downmarket liquor and niche-market cigarettes than in the material James has written; and Callisto (Kario Marcel), Jay's hunky, rudderless boyfriend has all the wit and charm any of them could want, or can handle.

Much of the dialogue is of a catty, gossipy nature, crocheted rather than constructed; it's by getting caught up in the verbal torrent that we get a sense for the characters, and for the dynamics between them. The cast work with this, rounding out the characters and finding enough in the implied aspects of their relationships — a sort of weary, irritable sibling vibe between James and Charlotte; a generationally challenged attraction between James and Callisto; a tetchy charge between Jay and everybody — to fill in the gaps. There are no major surprises here, and the sparks that fly have no place to go and, like the fireflies of the title, sputter out too quickly, but for all that there's plenty of amusement.

Still, one gets the sense that this should have remained on stage, rather than being brought to the screen. The movie is very much a play on film, consisting of a handful of long scenes that are filmed in a static manner (the location ios none other than Walsh's own home in Rhode Island). The stagey feel is dissipated somewhat when the movie ventures out of the house and into the yard, but never shakes a hermetic feeling; it's not quite the movie you want to watch in the middle of a pandemic, when you'd rather get out some.

Add to that a feeling of attentive, but amateurish, style, and what you take away is a feeling that you'd have preferred to see this live on stage; the film's charms feel like an echo of what might otherwise have been. Something's been lost in putting this story into movie form, and the experience starts to feel as flat as a strip of celluloid.

On the plus side, the film offers a bracing gay sensibility and some chucklesome one-liners that younger people might not fully appreciate, but those of us who, like James, are children of the 1980s can grasp in full ("He refused to do anything anal until I got tested and watched 'Longtime Companion' " is one of the movie's best lines). If viewing this movie prompts a few people to find "Longtime Companion" — or look up films that are more successfully translated plays, like "Torch Song Trilogy" — then it will have served a larger purpose.

"The Extinction of Fireflies" screens at Outfest Los Angeles

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.