Review of The Magic of Belle Isle
on 2012-07-22 08:52
Movie Review: "The Magic of Belle Isle" --
Length: 109 minutes
Release Date: July 6, 2012
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Genre: Comedy and Drama
3 out of 5 Stars
"The Magic of Belle Isle" is a romantic movie that focuses on an unlikely couple. Starring Morgan Freeman, Virginia Madsen and Madeline Carroll, "The Magic of Belle Isle" tells the story of an elderly writer who finds renewal in a small town. Although it does not have a surprising storyline, the movie is sweet and sentimental and appropriate for viewers of all ages.
The story centers on Monte Wildhorn (played by an always arresting Morgan Freeman), as an aging, alcoholic writer who has passed his prime. Since the death of his wife, Wildhorn, who wrote a series of Western novels, has descended into misery. He is angry and bitter, particularly because an accident with a drunk driver has left him in a wheelchair.
With his glory days behind him, Wildhorn decides to spend the summer consuming as much alcohol as possible while staying at his nephew's house. He is haunted by the specter of his typewriter, which looms in the background, reminding him of the need to return to writing as an escape from the demons. It is the inevitable conclusion of the movie that he will find inspiration and renewal in the small town.
Over the course of the summer, Wildhorn meets his neighbor, Charlotte O'Neil (played by Virginia Madsen), a single mother with three children. He strikes up a friendship with the middle child, who wants to be a writer; their relationship is the most real and believable of the movie. The plot takes an unlikely turn when a romance strikes up between Wildhorn and Charlotte, despite the obvious age difference.
Morgan Freeman shines in his role as the crotchety author. He brings his trademark gravity and wisdom to the film, and the richness of his voice adds warmth to even the darkest of moments. Although the role is far beneath his considerable acting talents, Freeman seems to be comfortable in the character, which doesn't require much effort. The part of Wildhorn would have been flat in a less capable actor's hands, ending up as a made-for-television movie, but Freeman elevates it to another level. He gives depth to a character that seems one-dimensional, creating a sense of reality in the relationships that Wildhorn develops with the other actors in the movie.
Virginia Madsen's character, Charlotte, is surprisingly flat. The actress is not given the chance to display her abilities. Instead, writers Guy Thomas and Rob Reiner, who also directed the film, have created a woman who is merely a caricature. She lives to serve everyone in her life rather than taking a stand and embracing her power and character. Her ageless beauty and on-screen charisma make up for the lack of development in the script, and the resulting performance is pleasant to watch.
Director Rob Reiner, who saw success in the 1980s and 1990s with blockbusters like "When Harry Met Sally," "The Princess Bride," and "Stand By Me," falls short of his potential with "The Magic of Belle Isle." The premise of the movie holds promise, but Reiner's screenplay and direction give the film a rather tired feeling. All of the technical elements of the film, from the camera angles to the soundtrack, feel like it's been done countless times before. If it weren't for the undeniable power of Freeman and Madsen, the film would be better suited for daytime television.
Reiner manages to hit his emotional marks on occasion, however. The relationship between Charlotte's daughter, Finnegan (played masterfully by Emma Fuhrmann), and Wildhorn is touching and realistic. Despite her age, Fuhrmann's acting talents are considerable. Several of the scenes with Freeman and Madsen are almost electric, providing the most charged moments of the film. The plight of the aging Freeman, along with his grief over his life's circumstances, offers a poignant back-story that informs the action and emotion of the film.
The supporting cast members in "The Magic of Belle Isle" give strong, if forgettable, performances. Charlotte's oldest and youngest daughters, played by Madeline Carroll and Nicolette Pierini, are merely caricatures. The small town in which the movie takes place is populated by the requisite assortment of strange characters.
Despite its flaws, "The Magic of Belle Isle" is a pleasant film that requires little thought on the part of audience members. The storyline is predictable but charming, and Reiner's skills show in the smooth camera work and seamless editing. Although their roles are not a challenge, the force of Freeman's and Madsen's combined star power carries the film through a lightweight plot. The movie is suitable for families and guarantees an entertaining and comical viewing experience.