Good News and Bad News
Films about authors or the craft of writing can be a hard sell, especially when viewers have become so accustomed to action and special effects. The Magic of Belle Isle -- starring Morgan Freeman as an award-winning author who’s given up writing and taken up drinking instead -- tries to overcome this disadvantage with amusing dialogue, an excellent cast, a friendly old dog, a surprising romance, and an emphasis on the power of imagination. The good news? It almost SUCCEEDS. The bad news? It ALMOST succeeds.
There’s much to be happy about here. For example, we get to hear Freeman’s marvelous voice in practically every scene. And he has some wonderful lines to say. Virginia Madsen lights up the screen as the divorced mother of three young girls, who draw us into their different interactions with a new wheelchair-bound neighbor. But just when we’ve settled in and warmed to the story, the man Freeman plays does something so out-of-character at a children’s party it breaks the spell for us.
Still, Freeman’s portrayal of Monte Wildhorn, the author of a popular series of Western novels, clearly shows the changes his character goes through during his “dog-sitting” job on Belle Isle during one special summer. He starts the season as a grumpy alcoholic who sees nothing to live for except his booze. Gradually – and predictably -- because of Charlotte O’Neil (Madsen) and her three daughters (Emma Fuhrmann, Nicolette Pierini, Madeline Carroll), Monte becomes interested in telling stories again and in forming relationships with others. An important key to this change involves unusual imagination/mentoring sessions between Monte and Finn (Fuhrmann).
Because of the film’s emphasis on imagination, I wanted to see more visual evidence of it on screen in The Magic of Belle Isle. I expected sequences similar to Michael Caine’s storytelling scenes in Secondhand Lions or Albert Finney’s tall tales in Big Fish. This would have been preferable to watching a dog lick himself. On the positive side, one charming imaginative scene between Madsen and Freeman delighted me! They make an unlikely but fascinating couple.
The Magic of Belle Isle may not be magical, but many Morgan Freeman fans will probably enjoy his droll, loquacious performance in this uneven offering.
(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated “PG” for mild thematic elements and language including some suggestive comments.)
For more information about this film, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.