The Magic of Belle Isle
(PG) Madman DVD/BD
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 full-time to his drinking.
One summer his nephew organises him a summer house in the small town of Belle Isle, where he can stay 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 not the filmmaker he was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he helmed great films like This is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally and Misery. Once an incredibly versatile filmmaker — as the previous list attests — he now tends to favour overly sentimental schmaltz and this is more of the same.
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 enjoyable 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.