UK Release Date: 20th April 2018
Runtime: 112 minutes
Director: Paolo Virzì
Writer: Paolo Virzì, Francesca Archibugi, Francesco Piccolo, Stephen Amidon
Starring: Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Janel Moloney, Christian McKay
Synopsis: Both suffering from ailing health, an elderly couple takes off on an impromptu, lengthy road trip in a motor home, in an attempt to relive their glory days one more time.
The prospect of a movie that unites Oscar winner Helen Mirren and Golden Globe winner Donald Sutherland for the first time in almost 30 years is an exciting one. In fact, it’s just about the only thing that made The Leisure Seeker worthy of any attention at all. The pair of them are acting heavyweights of the highest order and, given the screen time each of them has, much of the movie rests on their shoulders. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is a ponderous and non-enjoyable trudge along a road trip that you desperately want to see end almost as soon as it has begun.
Sutherland and Mirren – Golden Globe nominated for some reason – are long-time married couple John and Ella. John is suffering from severe dementia and is deteriorating quickly, while Ella wakes in the night with painful headaches. They take their old motor home, from which the movie gets its title, on a road trip to see Ernest Hemingway’s house in Florida. Meanwhile, their children (Janel Moloney and Christian McKay) realise they are missing and embark upon a stressful attempt to ensure their parents are safe.
The issues with The Leisure Seeker start with its haphazard foundations. It runs for almost two hours, structured around an inherently episodic road trip that sees some sort of misfortune happen to the couple each day, whether it’s being mugged by the side of the road or getting a flat tyre. Almost invariably, the problem resolves itself in some sort of gently comedic fashion and the couple end the day by sitting in the dark and flicking through a slideshow of family photos, with Sutherland’s character only recognising about half of them. It’s not the stuff of tense, absorbing drama.
The two actors are too good at what they do for their story not to feature some tender moments, but there’s no depth to their characters. Mirren simply repeats the same phrases over and over (“what goes on in that head?”) in a slightly shaky Southern drawl, while Sutherland fares marginally better, even as the script stipulates that his dementia ebb and flow as is necessary to facilitate both the plot and the comedy set pieces. Meanwhile, their kids are simply relegated to throwing their hands in the air in disbelief and yelling down various telephones.
There’s a potentially interesting thread in the script that never pays off, which sees the two characters repeatedly run into Trump voters. The first voice we hear in the movie is a series of Trump slogans being shouted from a campaign vehicle and, later, Sutherland’s character pins a MAGA badge to his chest while joining a rally, only to be reminded by Mirren of his lifelong Democrat voting record. It’s as if this was a thread of the movie that originally carried more weight, but was mostly excised in the editing room.
The Leisure Seeker plods through its seemingly endless narrative, only to arrive at a conclusion that’s far heftier than the preceding movie. As a result, it lands less like an emotional hammer blow than it does a weird and uncomfortable postscript to a caper that has been more broadly comedic than it has thematically powerful. It’s a Hollywood portrayal of illness and a shameless attempt at doing a ‘growing old disgracefully’ movie without any of the required wit or invention.
Pop or Poop?
It’s always a shame to see goliaths of the acting world reduced to nothing roles in dull movies, but that’s exactly the fate that befalls Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland in The Leisure Seeker. The film is a missed opportunity on every level, whether it’s in its refusal to depict mental illness in a realistic way or the squandered political subtext written so conspicuously into the story.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.