THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenwriter: Guy Thomas, Rob Reiner
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Virginia Madsen, Madeline Carroll, Kenan Thompson, Fred Willard, Emma Fuhrmann
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 6/26/12
Opens: July 6, 2012
In order to get their juices flowing, some writers retreat to rural areas like J.D. Salinger or, in the case of the really famous ones, to communities like the Hamptons. Others cannot stand peace and quiet and need the busyness of big cities, like Norman Mailer. Rob Reiner’s writer in “The Magic of Belle Isle” (filmed in Greenwood Lake, New York, north of Manhattan) has just about given up. He finds a certain magic in Belle Isle independent of the beautiful lake, the peaceful summer ambiance. He gets his juices flowing by his relationship with a neighbor whose three daughters take him under the wing, as it were, while he in turn gives back at least as much to them.
The story is schmaltzy as you can imagine, a Hallmark type of event and one that could be presented on an off-Broadway stage. Most of the action takes place in and around the summer home that finds Monte Wildhorn (Morgan Freeman) entering the place like a cynic and re-entering a couple of months later like a changed man. The septuagenarian, who has been in a wheelchair since the age of twenty-five when a drunk driver ran a red light, has had celebrity status for his novels about the Old West, but now he has dried up. His wife had died seven years back and he has hit the bottle big time, downing bourbons as though they were iced tea. Enter his neighbors: Charlotte O’Neil (Virginia Madsen), going through a divorce and apparently ready to stay in Belle Isle forever and to give up Manhattan, though her teen daughter Willow (Madeline Carroll) regrets leaving all her friends. Still Flora (Nicolette Pierini) is willing to give the place a try while Finnegan (Emma Fuhrmann) becomes Monte’s disciple, willing to pay her life savings of $34.18 if he would teach her how to use imagination to write stories.
“What do you see?” he asks Finnegan, who at first spots nothing more than a deserted road. In almost no time, however, she conjures up a host of characters and activities, excitedly telling her mom that she has written her first tale. Though strangely enough Monte calls Charlotte “Mrs. O’Neil” and she calls him “Mr. Wildhorn” throughout the summer (as though this were the 1950s), there are elements of romance between the two, particularly illustrated when Monte dreams of getting out of his wheelchair and slow-dancing to the middle-aged woman—until Spot, the Labrador who does not retrieve and for whom Monte is dog-sitting, licks his face to wake him up.
Side characters come and go, like the mentally challenged teen, Carl(Ash Christian) who hops like bunny but is quickly cured when Monte dubs him “Diego Santana, train robber,” and like the wonderful actor Fred Willard as Al Kaiser, another neighbor, who like the rest of the town is most welcoming of the writer. We need not wonder whether Monte will perk up out of his droll cynicism as the story is formulaic, though wholly agreeable. This is all about Morgan Freeman’s performance, one worth your time and money to catch.
Rated PG. 109 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B