Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Emma Fuhrmann, Virginia Madsen, Madeline Carroll, Nicolette Pierini, Ash Christian, Fred Willard, Kenan Thompson, Kevin Pollak
Monte Wildhorn is a grumpy old man. Once a respected author of Western epics, he has not written a word since the death of his wife. Instead, the wheelchair-bound curmudgeon has devoted himself fulltime to his drinking. One summer his nephew organises him a summer house in the small town of Belle Isle for him to stay at and clear his head. The house comes with a dog and neighbours – a recent divorcee and her three young daughters. As the summer goes on, Monte lets down his guard and with the help of some new friends this old and broken man rediscovers the will to write, to live and to love.
The Magic of Belle Isle is a reunion for Morgan Freeman and director Rob Reiner, who previously worked together on The Bucket List, another exploration of growing old. Reiner is, unfortunately, not the filmmaker he was in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he put together one of the most impressive and diverse bodies of work you’ll see from a Hollywood director. What was impressive about Reiner at his peak was his versatility. In an eight year period between 1984 and 1992, Reiner directed the greatest mockumentary ever made, This is Spinal Tap; a great coming-of-age tale, Stand by Me; a much loved children’s fantasy story, The Princess Bride; one of the best romantic comedies of its era, When Harry Met Sally; a Stephen King horror/thriller, Misery; and a courtroom drama, A Few Good Men. Not only is that a streak of great diversity, it is a streak of really high quality filmmaking. In recent times though, Reiner seems to have lost that versatility or at least lost the desire to try different things. He now tends to favour overly sentimental schmaltz (see the aforementioned The Bucket List), and this is more of the same. The Magic of Belle Isle is pretty uninspiring work from a once-impressive filmmaker.
But being uninspiring doesn’t mean the film is unenjoyable. Morgan Freeman possesses everybody’s favourite speaking voice and his character, being an author, is quite eloquent. So, one of the real pleasures of this film is simply listening to Morgan Freeman saying some quite lovely things. The relationships that Monte forms with the adventurous nine-year-old next door, a local young man with a mental illness and the old Labrador he reluctantly finds himself responsible for, are all fun to watch develop.
The Magic of Belle Isle can be sickly-sweet and predictable, but it is still warm and affectionate. Despite its present day setting it feels like it takes place in a simpler time, when people actually had time for one another. It is a lovely, feel-good story, simply told. It is not going to challenge you or make you think and it probably won’t stay with you, but for the hour-and-three-quarters that you spend with it you will be smiling.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean