Morgan Freeman’s presence generally makes any film worth seeing, and this is no exception. The fact that The Magic of Belle Isle also offers a benign, family-friendly alternative to harsher summer fare is icing on the cake.
That may not be everyone’s view of the film, which wears its heart on its sleeve and could be accused of sentimentality, but if you admire Freeman, and don’t mind surrendering to some cute little girls (who also win his heart in the course of the story), you’ll come away with a smile on your face.
Freeman plays a misanthropic author, confined to a wheelchair, who doesn’t write any more and is content to spend his days drinking. Then his nephew arranges for him to house-sit in a seasonal island community where the girls next door—especially a precocious 9-year-old—intrude upon his privacy, along with their mother (Virginia Madsen). Cantankerous as he may be, he is also a gentleman, and can’t resist the overtures of a child whose interest in stories stirs his long-dormant imagination. He also enjoys the company of a beautiful woman who plays Beethoven on the piano at night.
If this sounds cloying, let me assure you that it doesn’t play that way. Freeman seems to relish the role of a man who revels in his own erudition, and director Rob Reiner practices restraint at every turn. Marc Shaiman, who’s worked on most of Reiner’s films, shows similar tastefulness in his lovely score, which features the composer on piano.
The popularity of dark, edgy movies makes it difficult to promote a film that’s sweet, but that’s the best word to describe The Magic of Belle Isle, which has been available for the past month on Video on Demand. However you manage to see it, if you’re a Morgan Freeman fan you’ll be glad you did.