If you want a sentimental film filled with charm and warmth, Rob Reiner is often a good bet. The Magic of Belle Isle is a simple story and one of its strength lies in the fact that it stays this way, never trying to complicate or force the plot.
It starts with the arrival of Monte Wildhorn, an acclaimed author of popular Westerns, to the tranquil summer retreat of Belle Isle. Dry and bitter, his life is slowly but surely affected by his new neighbours: the recently-divorced Charlotte O’Neil and her three daughters.
The highlight of the film is the humour, delivered with wry aplomb by Morgan Freeman. Much of it arises through his relationship with Charlotte’s middle daughter Finn as he becomes her inadvertent mentor. Some of the best parts of The Magic of Belle Isle are Monte’s admonishing, yet eternally eloquent, speeches to the dog he finds himself looking after. Centring around Monte, who has resigned himself to never writing again, the film evolves into a celebration of words and imagination as he unwittingly finds renewed inspiration and an unexpected muse. This theme is emphasised through interlaced stories and Finn’s journey to new words and the power of the imagination.
Set against the lakeside, there are inevitable shots of sunsets and rippling blue waters. These, along with Marc Shaiman’s score accompanied by snippets of Beethoven, set The Magic of Belle Isle’s magical tone. Although the film never becomes sappy, the tone never really shifts either and stays on the same sedate note throughout. The characters are well-grounded and the only real flounder here is that Monte is purported as a drunk, yet the difference between his inebriation and soberness is not marked. There are no surprises and it will not challenge you as a viewer, but it is a sweet film and it is a relief to watch something once in a while that is light and uplifting.