The Magic of Belle Isle | Movie review
This sickly sweet dramedy may test the devotion of even the biggest Morgan Freeman fans.
“I have no doubt that Morgan Freeman could literally read the phone book and make it come off as a work of art,” Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman once wrote. The Magic of Belle Isle seems designed to test that assertion; if you’ll listen to the actor spout the sentimental tripe he does here, you really might sit through his dramatic recital of the yellow pages. As Monty, a widower in a wheelchair and washed-up author of cowboy novels, Freeman waxes rhapsodic about a typewriter; carries on extended, cheeky conversations with a canine; and offers romantically vague writing tips concerning the power of imagination. It’s a role so catered to the Oscar winner’s wheelhouse—eccentric, loquacious sage figures—that it basically scans as self-parody. Has Freeman entered the Gran Torino stage of his career?
A folksy, sickly sweet comeback story, Belle Isle saddles Monty with dog-sitting duties in an impossibly quaint summer-vacation community. It’s here he meets fetching single mother Charlotte (Virginia Madsen) and her three spunky daughters, who quickly insinuate themselves into his solitary existence. The movie’s appeal is meant to derive from a bitter, drunken crank regaining his zest for life. Yet Freeman has been playing charmers for so long, he’s lost the ability to go mean; we never buy him as an asshole. Decades removed from his When Harry Met Sally heyday, director Rob Reiner orchestrates an unconvincing quasi-romance between Monty and Charlotte, complete with a Sideways-style, what-are-we-really-talking-about? porch scene. Forget the old man’s funk. It’s Reiner and Freeman—reunited after the toxically mawkish The Bucket List—who need to reclaim their mojo.