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Once More / The Magic of Belle Isle (2012)

CRUMBLIES… 3 crumblies

You know how sometimes you watch a feel-good film the hour after a particularly huge meal and have to put no small effort into keeping down your own vomit? And, weirdly, the effort pays off and you find yourself with a mouth full of chalk and an oddly charmed soul? So, here we go, Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen simper and sidle around one another like every 81 and 56 year old in this home, passions slowly rising Once More.

Okay, old Jack here didn’t initially realise where this was going. Old grumpy bastard in a wheelchair gets shuffled into a summer home, rent-free with a dash of dog-tending to buy the space, a writer who drinks, grieves and doesn’t write. Next door lives a divorcing mum and her three daughters: testy teen, clueless tiny and catalyst-to-get-typing, young Finnegan (Emma Fuhrmann as plot inevitability on a path to a lifetime of piss, vinegar and slapping old farts back to life). The second they notice each other across the gardens (helped by Freeman screaming at the heavens – he snarky, got that?), the redemption plot comes charging out of the screen. Romance seems unlikely and wrong.

Mad Maud sighed adoringly. Old Jack took a swig of Gaviscon.

And then stuff happens. Finnegan gets Freeman to share stories; he sort of does but conspires to be disappointing. She’s getting somewhere with his soul, when he orders up piles of alcohol and gets on with missing his dead wife – nicely. No vomiting in the night, but sticking to his chair and twisting tales towards nasty, he gets chatted up by Madsen and invited over. Through her rather lovely piano-playing and his tangible, if laconic, charm, they bond.

You can sense the story rising, can’t you? Now turn your mind to the big island across the water from the houses. Finnegan and friends (okay, snarky sister and buddy) build a raft and – much to the tension of the TV room – head out to find some of Madsen’s ancient secrets… Not a life jacket in sight….

And nothing much else happens. The stars get closer; there’s some bother about snubbing a film-actor; divorce chatter shows off worry and hurt; and…nope, the stillness made me more than aware of the burning in my throat.

And yet…

And despite the roaringly awkward age gap between the stars…

…25 years, in case you’re out of fingers…

…the two get closer with immensely pleasing courtesy that took old Jack here back to days of nervousness, chaperones and the respect of grown-ups looking each other in the heart. Madsen isn’t given much leeway to guide the plot, but colours in reality with a simple touch and parent’s wariness. Freeman does his wise old God routine, lacing it with an edge that holds back the hail of sugar falling out of the sky. Sugar not soap. And it works.

The kids, the friends, the backstory and the comic contrivances are unreal. The cinematography is kind of pretty but nothing distracting. And the lasting impact? A real wish that age groups would keep to themselves and tell more stories like that going on between Freeman and Madsen. Is it asking too much to have December wanting December and leave September alone?

No-one drowns.


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