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The Magic of Belle Isle

2012 | 109 min | PG | 1.85:1

The Magic of Belle Isle


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Theatrical release date

 06 July, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from The Magic of Belle Isle Blu-ray

The Magic of Belle Isle Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, July 12, 2012

The direction of Rob Reiner’s career has been quite curious as of late. After scoring a major hit with 2007’s “The Bucket List,” the helmer has retreated into smaller films of a more wholesome nature, including 2010’s unexpectedly tedious family offering, “Flipped.” “The Magic of Belle Isle” furthers Reiner’s newfound interests in unexceptional entertainment on a slightly more victorious note, though the picture isn’t something that demands attention. Better with intimacy than artifice, the movie shines intermittently, holding out hope that Reiner will wake up before the feature concludes and deliver a string of amazing scenes. Instead, “Belle Isle” contains very little magic, at least the sustained kind.

A physically challenged, alcoholic curmudgeon, Monty (Morgan Freeman) is being relocated to the coastal town of Belle Isle for the summer, with his nephew (Keenan Thompson) hoping the change in scenery will reignite a passion for writing within the once great western author. Moving next door to Charlotte (Virginia Madsen) and her daughters Willow (Madeline Carroll), Finnegan (Emma Fuhrmann), and Flora (Nicolette Pierini), Monty is faced with inquisitive neighbors, with special attention from the middle child, who wants to learn more about the process of writing and the expanse of imagination. While soaking himself in booze, Monty decides to work with Finnegan, growing close to the family along the way, sparking up chemistry with Charlotte, a divorcee trying to hold her family together without a father figure. Finding his creativity rejuvenated, Monty gradually returns to his typewriter, creating short stories for young Flora as a way of relearning heartfelt communication.

The screenplay by Guy Thomas has a tendency to lean toward overly precious storytelling ornamentation, with the small town of Belle Isle a picturesque collection of specialized shops and quaint community characters, including a local tax professional (Jessica Hecht) and her mentally challenged son, Carl (Ash Christian), who Monty befriends by filling the young man’s head with fantasies of gunslinging sidekickery. The great Fred Willard also pops in to play a local fan of the writer, urging Monty to eulogize a recently deceased man he’s never met. Reiner doesn’t exaggerate the neighborhood interactions, but it’s enough to pull the viewer out of the bond developing between the grumpy author and his probing neighbors. There’s also a canine in the mix, an arthritic pooch named Ringo that Monty renames Spot and attempts to motivate for the duration of the summer. Unwilling to let a cheap joke sneak past him, Reiner includes three punchlines where Spot licks his genitals for comedic effect. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that Reiner once directed “This is Spinal Tap.”

It’s a season of discovery for Finnegan, who’s desperate to sail to a nearby island and retrieve mysterious treasures, while developing her creative muscles with Monty, who teaches the girl the value of fabrication while receiving his own lesson in honesty, finding time with the girl loosening his writer’s block and encouraging sobriety. It’s certainly a worthwhile subplot to chase, yet Reiner plays the relationship on the cutesy side, with Furhmann’s gee-whiz performance too eager to land its emotional beats, while Freeman is more of a cartoon grouch than a genuinely shattered man unwilling to piece his life back together after years of loss and disillusionment. Their scenes are cute, but never as touching as the production imagines.

Where “Belle Isle” shines the brightest is in the relationship between Monty and Charlotte, which takes on a pleasingly adult nature of mutual respect and confession that’s sweetly performed by Madsen and Freeman. It’s romantic, but in an emotionally grounded manner that’s more appealing to watch, captured in a handful of cozy moments between the characters as they learn more about each other. A dream sequence where Monty finally indulges his feelings for Charlotte is especially well done, showing a patient, almost seductive side to Reiner I wish he would reveal more often.

“The Magic of Belle Isle” is predicable, with Reiner giving in to every emotional rehabilitation moment to work the story to a close, even bringing in Spot to make sure every character is tied off with a bow. The picture could’ve done with a little less formula and more emotional verve, creating an endearing union that wraps around the viewer. Instead, the feature tastes vaguely of plastic, ruining what little dramatic life manages to sneak into sections of the film.

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Virginia Madsen, Madeline Carroll, Emma Fuhrmann, Nicolette Pierini, Kenan Thompson
Director: Rob Reiner

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