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The Magic of Belle Isle (A Movie Review)

Magic of Belle Isle


Starring Morgan Freeman, Virginia Madsen, Madeline Carroll, Emma Fuhrmann, Nicolette Pierini, Kenan Thompson, Fred Willard, Ash Christian, Kevin Pollak, Jessica Hecht, Boyd Holbrook, Rosemary Howard, Michael Morana, Debargo Sanyal and Jean-Pierre Serret.

Screenplay by Guy Thomas.

Directed by Rob Reiner.

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. 149 minutes. Rated PG.

In the Eighties and early Nineties, Rob Reiner looked like he was going to be the greatest popular director of his generation. He had a hot streak like no one’s business, very good to great commercial films like This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing (still my favorite film ever), Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men and The American President.

Then, when everything looked like it was going perfectly, Reiner hit a historic bad streak, making such awful films as North, Ghosts of Mississippi, Alex & Emma and The Story of Us. Eventually, he pulled out of the tailspin, making a series of enjoyable enough films, but not exactly masterpieces, such as Rumor Has It and The Bucket List. Neither were going to be blockbusters, but both did fairly well.

The Magic of Belle Isle is Reiner’s reunion with the co-star of the director’s last hit film, Morgan Freeman of The Bucket List.

The Magic of Belle Isle will never become a box office success. In fact, it is more likely to follow Reiner’s last similarly nostalgic film Flipped almost directly to video. It’s too small, too intimate, too unabashedly sentimental – but there is still a place in the world for this kind of storytelling.

That said, though, this film is nearly entirely carried by the gruff charm of its leading man. Morgan Freeman takes a rather hackneyed storyline and sells it, making The Magic of Belle Isle more entertaining than it probably deserves to be.

Freeman plays Monte Wildhorn, a crotchety, alcoholic widow who was briefly famous as a novelist specializing in westerns. (Are there African American western writers?) He’s now wheelchair- bound, almost broke and had a massive case of writer’s block for years. All he really wants to do is sit around, drink and mope.

Therefore, his nephew (Kenan Thompson) gets him a rent-free cabin in a sleepy little vacation town. All that he has to do is take care of the dog.

However, the eccentric locals, including a pretty young divorcee (Virginia Madsen) next door and her three daughters, think the guy is a celebrity and through their kindness and interest, finally reawaken his talent.

Some of it is funny – Fred Willard turns in a dutifully wacky guest shot. Some of it is a little sappy – like the friendship that the writer starts with a local mentally-challenged teen, making him feel more important in life. The relationship with the divorcee is a little unlikely, but sweet, as is the slow thawing of Monte’s icy exterior by her cute daughters and the dog.

It’s not particularly realistic, but it is a nice fable, and the title suggests that it was never meant as anything more. The Magic of Belle Isle is a bit manipulative and sometimes overly schmaltzy, but it’s also much more charming than you’d expect. You have Morgan Freeman to thank for that.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: June 20, 2012.

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