Rob Reiner has become a softie in his later years. Following up his criminally underrated coming of age period piece, Flipped with what the ad line labels "a re-coming of age" story, Reiner has crafted the perfect summer film in The Magic Of Belle Isle. No, not one with a lot of noise and battles and comic book heroes, but rather a wonderfully laid back family story set around a gorgeous lake, about the everyday problems of real people from 7 to 70. Not exactly the recipe for a blockbuster, this melancholy look at an aging writer (Morgan Freeman) who finds renewed inspiration after taking a cabin for the summer is one of Reiner's best. Sadly it doesn't stand a prayer of gaining much traction in theatres with an early July platform release, but should do quite well on VOD and DVD to earn a nice profit on a low budget.
Reiner has always shown himself to be a versatile director in a variety of genres, but he is at his best when emphasizing the human element missing from studio pictures today. Now that he's gone indie for the first time and re-teamed with Freeman (with whom he and Jack Nicholson enjoyed so much success in The Bucket List), it seems to have freed him. Despite its fourth of July weekend opening don't expect fireworks, just a nice, slowly paced story about people and the continuing challenges of life. Freeman plays Monte Wildhorn, a man with a fading career as a successful western novelist, as well as a real drinking problem. When his nephew (Kenan Thompson) drops him off in a picturesque lakeside town to housesit for the summer things go badly, until he meets the family next door. Charlotte O'Neil (Virginia Madsen) is a recent divorcee living with her three daughters: teenager Willow (Madeline Carroll), younger Flora (Nicolette Pierini) and spirited 9-year-old tomboy Finnegan (Emma Fuhrmann), who turns up at Monte's door one day for help becoming a writer. With this as impetus he becomes involved in the lives of the O'Neils as well as others in the town, even to the point of being asked to deliver a eulogy for a man he's never met.
Okay, so there are no great revelations or startling plot developments in the determinedly old-fashioned, but original screenplay by Guy Thomas-but if you give it half a chance you'll really like these characters and what they offer each other. Particularly touching and tricky is a developing relationship between Charlotte and Monte that somehow seems right, despite appearances to the contrary. The deep friendship allows both wounded people to find renewal. Freeman is just superb here, again delivering what looks like an effortless performance but showing us a man in his sunset years who isn't quite done with life. Madsen is also terrific, underplaying the role of a woman dealing with a tough divorce but trying to find a way back. The girls are all ideally cast but it's Furhmann's story and she wins our hearts. So does this beautiful film you won't soon forget, especially if you are looking for something that goes down like lemonade on a hot summer day.
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Virginia Madsen, Madeleine Carroll, Isabelle Furhmann, Nicolette Pierini, Kenan Thompson, Fred Willard, Ash Christian, Kevin Pollak
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenwriter: Guy Thomas
Producers: Alan Greisman, Lori McCreary, Martin Shafer, Liz Glotzer, Andrew Scheinman
Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and language including suggestive comments
Running Time: 109 min.
Release Date: July 6, 2012