A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Magic of Belle Isle is a drama about the inter-generational friendship between an old alcoholic writer and the three young sisters who live next door. Although the movie is rated PG, director Rob Reiner explores some heavy themes, like alcoholism, grief, divorce, and disability. There's also some strong-for-the-rating language ("s--t," "ass," "damn," "Jesus H. Christ" said a couple of times each), and a couple of quick kisses (one is in a dream). The bond that forms between the crotchety author (Morgan Freeman) and the girls may remind younger viewers that seniors have lived full, rich lives and still have something to say.
What's the story?
Monte Wildhorn (Morgan Freeman) is a bitter old author of once-popular Western novels. Wheelchair bound and an alcoholic, Monte moves into his nephew's rustic lake house for the summer -- right next door to Charlotte (Virginia Madsen), a soon-to-be-divorced mom, and her three daughters: teenager Willow (Madeline Carroll), 9-year-old tomboy Finn (Emma Fuhrmann), and little sis Flora (Nicolette Pierini). As Finn -- and the rest of the town -- gets to know Monte, his crustiness softens, and he learns to make friends for the first time in a long while. Through their unlikely friendship, Finn and Monte dare each other to dream and write and never give up.
Is it any good?
Anyone who can't stand feel-good, sentimental family films should stay far, far away from THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE. This is the sort of sugary-sweet drama that would be at home on the Hallmark Channel. Freeman is fabulous, and he's pitch-perfect spouting off Monte's saltier comments -- like his reply to his nephew (Kenan Thompson) about why he doesn't write anymore: "Drinking is a demanding profession, and I can’t hold two jobs at once." It's rare to see Freeman in a true leading role, and he doesn't disappoint because he's just that good. There's a reason so many documentaries and commercials pay him to narrate: His voice is an amazing blend of gravitas and comfort.
Madsen is also in her element as the beautiful mother next door trying to exorcise her marital problems in the idyllic summer retreat of her youth. While her daughters each have their issues, Monte becomes a mentor and friend to all of them, particularly aspiring writer Finn. Young Fuhrmann holds her own in her many scenes with Freeman. Although Reiner allows the movie to dive too far into the pool of sentimentality, there's nothing wrong with a corny but lovable drama every once in a while. And if kids learn that the AARP crowd has a lot to offer them, even better.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the theme of aging. Most movies portray the elderly in supporting roles as grandparents or neighbors, but in The Magic of Belle Isle, the aged author is the main character. How do you feel when you see older people in leading roles?
How is alcoholism portrayed in the movie? What are Monte's reasons for drinking? How does his drinking get in the way of his creativity?
What other movies address the relationship between seniors and kids? Talk about elderly folks you know who might be cool to talk to, learn from, and hang out with more often.
- In theaters: July 6, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: September 18, 2012
- Cast: Emma Fuhrmann, Morgan Freeman, Virginia Madsen
- Director: Rob Reiner
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild thematic elements and language including some suggestive comments
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