The Leisure Seeker
Starring Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland
Director Paolo Virzì doesn’t know quite how to turn his latest comedy/drama into something substantial. It’s not the only cathartic road trip movie of the season, nor is it the only recent film dealing with Alzheimer’s. The draw here are iconic actors Helen Mirren (Collateral Beauty) and Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games), reuniting for the first time on screen since 1990. The Leisure Seeker starts off as a rambunctious travel trip, with two elders causing all sorts of commotion. It’s a comedy, but by the end of the film, this lesson in disease, ailments, old age and acceptance aims to touch its viewers. Only, it’s spend the entire film being ridiculous, so there isn’t much to cry about.
“They have run away!” Will Spencer (Christian McKay) says, when he comes to visit his parents and finds an empty house and a missing 1975 Winnebago. Sure enough, Ella (Mirren) and John (Sutherland) are headed south to the Florida Keys for one last hurrah. John is driving the monstrously outdated machine, his mind going in and out of reason as he battles memory loss. Ella navigates and chooses where to stop and when, as she strikes up conversations with strangers. They encounter more than a few bumps in the road that will test their marriage, sanity and remaining energy.
Like John’s memory, the script goes in and out of slapstick comedy territory.
“It’s so painful when you don’t remember,” she tells him. Nightly, at various campgrounds they watch slide shows on a bed sheet, so he can remember the past. Like John’s memory, the script goes in and out of slapstick comedy territory, Mirren fending off Florida redneck thugs with a double barrel shotgun, to painful realizations that the couple can barely take care of themselves. The Leisure Seeker certainly capitalizes on some bait and switch advertising, as the films takes a wacky turn and heads in a direction that’s both predictable and unwelcome.
Stephen Amidon’s screenplay isn’t interested in getting the disease or medical conditions right, and all four features characters in the film feel like Steve Martin adaptations. The Leisure Seeker certainly provides entertainment for the audience, offering shenanigans right and left, but it doesn’t leave you with much to think about. Mirren’s charm is nearly worth the price of admission, but even her southern accent wanes depending on what scene they are in. Younger audiences won’t find the film particularly engaging, while older audiences, perhaps the intended demographic, might find this morbid and depressing.
Mirren and Sutherland have good chemistry in these wacky roles, but the film has a misguided since of direction.