“The Magic of Belle Isle” is a movie with an unassuming warmth and naturalness that is likely to have a bright box office chance. Reuniting with director Rob Reiner from the hit film, “The Bucket List,” Morgan Freeman plays Monte Wildhorn, a famous Western novelist whose struggle with alcoholism has sapped his passion for writing. He takes a lakeside cabin for the summer in upstate New York at the picturesque Belle Isle and befriends the family next door—an attractive single mom (Virginia Madsen) and her young daughters — who help reignite his passion for writing.
Morgan Freeman and Emma Fuhrmann
When we first meet Freeman’s character Monte, he is on his way to Belle Isle, being driven by his nephew Henry (Kenan Thompson). A cantankerous old man, his cynicism and detest for life is evident. He’s a writer who stopped writing and we find out through the course of the film how he got into the wheelchair and how he lost his wife several years earlier. He describes his typewriter as a “black hearted whore,” snarls at his nephew, and is only interested in gorging whiskey.
It isn’t long before he meets nine year old Finnegan O’Neil (Emma Fuhrmann). The daughter of his next door neighbor Charlotte, Finnegan is a budding novelist seeking inspiration, and a fatherly figure after her parent’s contentious divorce. Monte immediately takes a liking to her, admiring both her spunk and young wisdom. Her curiosity about wanting to know where stories come from sparks his own interest to write again, and through the relationships that he develops with various folks of Belle Isle, he’s able to re-engage in life and a little romance with Charlotte.
Morgan Freeman and Rob Reiner
“Monte basically has had a lot to deal with,” explains Reiner. “He once had a career as a baseball player and the fact that he had to give up his career and be confined to a wheelchair made him believe his life was over then. He subsequently finds a new life as a novelist, with the creation of the character Jubal, but when his wife dies, it’s like he says in the film: `all the doors closed, everything got bolted shut.”
The plot is a simple affair. You get the performances you expect from these two great stars. Morgan gives the role a subtle mixture of wit, energy, and psychological realism, which lift this story mercifully and the relationship between Monte and Charlotte (Madsen), is very subtle in the way that it builds towards romance. For Morgan, it’s the first time he has starred in a romantic role.
Morgan and Madsen
“You generally don’t think of Morgan in that way,” adds Reiner. “And yet in this picture he’s so romantic because he does have those qualities of strength, power, wisdom and soul. She and Morgan are unbelievable together and there’s real chemistry there, no question about it.”
It may appear to be just another formulaic story of a man who’s given up on life and ends up finding inspiration, but “The Magic of Belle Isle” has good story telling and great direction by Reiner, whose résumé boasts quality flicks that include “When Harry Met Sally” and “Misery.”
All photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
by Samantha Ofole-Prince