In an effort to tap into his original talent, a wheelchair-bound author moves to a rural town, where he befriends a single mother and her three kids, who help reignite his passion for writing. Morgan Freeman plays a bitter, curmudgeonly, once-celebrated writer of western novels and a former minor league ballplayer, Mr. Monte Wildhorn, a man in his 70s who hasn’t written a word since his wife’s death and plans to commit suicide at his earliest convenience.
Monte, who has been in a wheelchair since a freak accident, moves in next door to the O’Neils for the summer. He has been lent the house by his nephew (Kenan Thompson) on condition that he care for the dog, Ringo, whom Monte immediately renames Spot. He buys sour mash whiskey by the case, and is an alcoholic who plans to spend the summer getting drunk instead of writing. As he puts it wryly, “Drinking is a demanding profession, and I can’t hold two jobs at once.”
But as the season wears on, and Monte becomes entangled in the lives of his neighbors, especially the three daughters of Charlotte O’Neil (Virginia Madsen), a single mother in the process of divorcing her husband. Willow (Madeline Carroll), an occasionally petulant but mostly good-humored teenager; the tomboyish 9-year-old Finnegan (Emma Fuhrmann); and the baby sister, Flora (Nicolette Pierini). Charlotte is a font of common-sense wisdom and compassion; she also plays Beethoven beautifully on the piano. The culture of cellphones, text messages and celebrity, although acknowledged, remains far in the background. By the end of the summer, his demons have receded, and he is once again pecking away at the old typewriter that he prefers to a computer.
“The Magic of Belle Isle” takes its time in a way that movies hardly ever do nowadays. Shot in Greenwood Lake, N.Y., it lulls and strokes you with a sensuous appreciation of lazy summer days in an everyday paradise where the anxieties of modern life are kept at bay. The magic of this movie’s title emanates from the beautiful, measured performances of its stars. Mr. Freeman’s Monte has been given the space to ruminate about writing and the powers of imagination, which he imparts to Finnegan, who becomes his eager protégée. He is also a mentor of sorts to a sweet, mentally disabled teenager from the neighborhood named Carl (Ash Christian), who bunny-hops instead of walking. If Mr. Freeman’s performance hits the familiar stature we are familiar with. Through the tiniest movements of his face, he registers a complicated mixture of love, empathy, gentle humor and resignation, along with an underlying cunning.
MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE: Directed by Rob Reiner; written by Guy Thomas; director of photography, Reed Morano; edited by Dorian Harris; music by Marc Shaiman; production design by Tom Lisowski; costumes by Shawn-Holly Cookson; produced by Mr. Reiner, Alan Greisman, Lori McCreary, Salli Newman and David Valdes; released by Magnolia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes.
WITH: Morgan Freeman (Monte Wildhorn), Virginia Madsen (Charlotte O’Neil), Madeline Carroll (Willow O’Neil), Emma Fuhrmann (Finnegan O’Neil), Nicolette Pierini (Flora O’Neil), Kenan Thompson (Henry), Fred Willard (Al Kaiser), Kevin Pollak (Joe Viola) and Ash Christian (Carl Loop).
A Picture of Greenwood Lake, N.Y. – the location for Magic Of Belle Isle (Thanks, Cynthia Soroka-Dunn)