On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE (Magnolia).
THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE
Never stop looking for what’s not there.
By Britt Bensen
See clips of THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE & more movies on demand via The Movie Loft: Quicktake...
As we watched Morgan Freeman (THE UNFORGIVEN, DRIVING MISS DAISY) receive the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award from the Golden Globes® in January, I’m sure we were all wondering when would we see the next solid Morgan Freeman movie performance? Not all of his roles are great (whose are?), but he’s one of today’s actors who when you see or hear his name mentioned with a movie, you take a little extra notice. Who doesn’t like Morgan Freeman?
I was curious when I first learned THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE, a Rob Reiner movie starring Freeman, was being released on demand today (Friday, June 1), a full month before in theaters (July 6). The last film they did together, THE BUCKET LIST (with Jack Nicholson) grossed $93 million domestically and $175 million worldwide. Not too shabby. The second highest grossing film to A FEW GOOD MEN.
Morgan Freeman / THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE (Magnolia Pictures)
The next thing I wanted to know was whether THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE would feature Freeman’s narration? He speaks first on screen at the 2:30 minute mark while his character Monte Wildhorn (I’m going to guess he’s loud & boisterous with a last name like that) is being driven to a new home in a new lakeshore town for the summer by his nephew Henry (played by SNL’s Kenan Thompson). Apparently Monte has seen better days.
We’re next greeted by his neighbors. Charlotte O’Neill (Virginia Madsen), a single mother and her three young daughters. The movie’s dialogue quickly establishes itself in the cinematic comedic styling of do as I say, not as I do. Virginia tells her youngest (Flora) to not waste water (pre fire) after learning Finneagan, the precocious middle daughter, splashed Willow, the disinterested oldest child, with water. And then playfully sprays her from the hose.
Morgan Freeman, Emma Fuhrmann / THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE (Magnolia Pictures)
As Monte bristles at being helped into his wheelchair from the truck to the home next door (yup, he’s loud), his ire catches the attention of O’Neill’s. As they venture over to look, Charlotte advises her daughters that “it is not polite to stare.” Of course they look back (accompanied by a twang of a guitar score). The movie is written by Guy Thomas whose previous film screenplay credit dates back to 1980’s WHOLLY MOSES, starring Dudley Moore and James Coco. Wholly Moses that is a long time ago!
I will say at this point, the movie wants us to dislike Monte (so he can start low and rise above), but give him, the movie (and this review) a chance...
Monte begrudgingly enters the small cottage (apparently it is free) and demonstrates he is an alcoholic by demanding Henry get him a mid-day (mid-morning?) drink. Henry hands him a full bottle, sans glass and then brings in Monte’s old classic typewriter (or as Monte calls her: “a black-hearted whore. And he’s done with her.”). We learn of Monte’s paradox as a former published writer of western novels after hearing a phone message from his agent leads to Henry’s encouragement him to respond:
Monte: Nobody cares about a writer nobody reads.
Henry: Nobody reads you because you don’t write.
Without caring for anyone or being cared about, Monte's drinking is getting in the way.
It wouldn’t be a Rob Reiner movie without moments of levity as Monte makes the rounds through town passing out what he believes is sage advice or his conversations with Ringo, the cottage Labrador.
THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE isn’t narrated by Freeman, but provides doses of his rich voice. Fred Willard’s character (Al Kaiser) requests the town’s newest resident read a eulogy at a neighbor’s wake. It’s complete with a message of how special Bell Isle is. Freeman’s voice comes into play again as Charlotte reads the children’s story “The Elephant Who Stays Forever” Monte wrote for Flora’s birthday (but inspired by and meant for her mother).
Charlotte replies by playing the piano with the windows open for Monte.
There’s a certain timelessness to THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE. Their world isn’t absent of cell phones and technology, but they are usually accompanied by bad news (the divorced father calling to say he can’t attend a daughter’s birthday). The movie pines for the days of reading & writing real books (not downloads), manual typewriters and playing and listening to music without an iPod or headphones.
Nine-and-a-half year-old Finneagan (played by the endearing Emma Fuhrmann) is at the heart of the movie. “Finn” is intent on discovering the “magic” of Belle Isle (a small island in the middle of the lake they live by) and writing. It’s not long before she becomes Monte’s protégé.
Freeman is at his best as a rapscallion
who is reminded by the good of being part of others’ lives.
Whether it as unlikely paramour to Mrs. O’Neill, an errand friend to the neighborhood’s simpleton (who deadpannly delivers some of the movie’s funniest lines) or as a parental figure / kindred spirit to Finn, Freeman delivers a performance we expect and enjoy.
Ever since SIDEWAYS, I’ve been waiting for another winsome role for Virginia Madsen. She’s so likeable and still turns a head. Flawed, independent film characters in need of a better relationship are in her sweet spot. And she is the right choice for the role.
Virginia Madsen / THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE (Magnolia Pictures)
I started THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE a skeptic, but by the credits I was charmed. It’s not a perfect movie. It would be easy to pick at the film with today’s cynical point-of-view. But Rob Reiner, Morgan Freeman and young Emma Fuhrmann prove you’re never too old or young to believe in the power of imagination.
Pay a visit to Belle Isle on demand. You’ll be glad you did (imagine it being read in Morgan Freeman’s voice).
THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE is On Demand Weekly's independent film pick for the month of June on the movie on demand preview show, The Movie Loft. Read more about our new partnership with The Movie Loft here.
Britt is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-founder of On Demand Weekly. He is the former head of Affiliate Marketing and VOD for Sundance Channel. Prior to Sundance Chanel, Britt worked for Miramax Films and BMI. He also on the Advisory Board of the Palo Alto Intl Film Festival.
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