A question that filmmakers are sometimes told to ask themselves before deciding to embark on any project is whether it's a film that just has to be made - maybe because it's filling some need that's been relatively ignored. Rob Reiner's The Magic Of Belle Isle is as conventional and predictable a narrative as you can get in 2012, which left me wondering why it was made in the first place.
Granted the "everything new is a remix of the old" meme is a valid one, but I'd like to believe that where the originality comes in, is with the execution, and maybe even personalization of the material, to provide some novelty and freshness.
Morgan Freeman does his best with what he's given to work with here, which isn't much, carrying what I ultimately found to be a rather dull, uninventive exercise from director Reiner (the two last worked together with Jack Nicholson in the superior The Bucket List, although I wasn't a huge fan of that either).
In short, Morgan Freeman plays a famous elderly wheelchair-bound curmudgeon of an author, who's given in to the bottle, and lost his literary mojo. At the urging of his nephew, played by Kenan Thompson, he agrees to house- and dog-sit in a small, homily lakeside locale called Belle Isle, where his nephew hopes he'll be able to rekindle his romance with the written word. And just as the title of the film suggests, that's where the "magic" begins.
While there, Monte (Freeman) meets a single mother (played by Virginia Madsen) with 3 young daughters, who all live in the house next door. At first, Monte is resistant to the charms and friendly advances of his next door neighbors, who appreciate his writing, and want him to find his mojo again; but, as you'd expect, eventually, he softens up, they learn somethings from him, he learns somethings from them (notably, he finds the inspiration he needs to start writing again), and all ends blissfully.
Yay. The end.
There's a hint at a romance between the characters played by Freeman and Madsen, but, not-so-surprisingly, Reiner doesn't quite take it all the way there. What we do get is a single friendly smooch. Of course, the fact that he's in a wheelchair doesn't help. Although, some might say that was convenient.
Freeman's obviously a seasoned thespian, and Madsen can hold her own, so no concerns about either. If only they had more to chew on. Both looked bored here.
Don't get me wrong, it's a well-made film, technically sound, etc; it's just dull. Reiner doesn't even seem to be making much of an effort to be inventive in any way, with either story or style, or pepper it up with some surprises to keep the audience guessing and thus, hopefully engaged. This hampered my ability to appreciate the film, and/or it's message on the power of the imagination, or even just be entertained by it.
It plays more like a Sunday night ABC movie special, and I couldn't wait for it to end - an ending that's wrapped up all-too-tidily, without even an attempt to stray from the unexpected.
The film, which co-stars Fred Willard and Madeline Carroll, was picked up by Magnolia Pictures, with plans to release it in theaters on July 6th; but you can watch it now on VOD via Magnolia's VOD pre-theatrical release initiative.
Here's its trailer: