THE LEISURE SEEKER (2017)
Starring Donald Sutherland, Helen Mirren, Janel Moloney, Christian McKay, Dana Ivey, Kirsty Mitchell, Robert Pralgo, Dick Gregory, Joshua Mikel, Chelle Ramos, Carl Bradfield, Mark Ashworth, Leander Suleiman, Elijah Marcano, Joshua Hoover, Robert Walker Branchaud, Matt Mercurio, Helen Abell, Karen Valero, Brittany Dugan and Lindsey Moser.
Screenplay by Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, Francesco Piccolo and Paolo Virzì.
Directed by Paolo Virzì.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 112 minutes. Rated R.
There’s an old joke. An elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease and his wife with possibly terminal cancer take off on a cross-country road trip driving a rickety old recreational vehicle. And then….
Oh wait, that doesn’t sound funny, does it?
Yet, surprisingly, with this as the basic storyline, The Leisure Seeker is actually pretty darned funny, at least up until you reach the dark, tragic, but probably inevitable ending. (Don’t worry, I won’t spoil what happens, but come on, with that kind of a premise you know things are not going to end well.)
Much of this lightness and sweetness stems directly from two great old pros in the lead roles. Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland are wonderful as Ella, a housewife and her aging professor husband John, who are trying to get used to his “forgetfulness problem” when she seems to find out that she has also become sick (though she will not acknowledge her sickness, their adult children are aware of it and concerned their parents are in great danger.).
Knowing neither of them have much time, Ella decides she wants to get their old RV, which has not been used in years, and take a drive from their home in the Boston area to Key West – a lifetime fantasy destination for John, a former English prof who idolized Ernest Hemingway.
Their relationship feels warm and lived in. Mirren and Sutherland feel like a real couple with a real history; with love, respect, loyalty, a shared background and with decades of festering disagreements which have been left on the back burner. They did not have a perfect marriage, but all these years later they care for each other totally.
And because the acting and their connection is so strong, you can sort of overlook the film’s tendency to get a little overly sentimental, occasionally even toppling over into being maudlin.
The acting saves the day, beyond the great leads there is some wonderful work done by Christian McKay and Janel Moloney (of The West Wing, she has been missed!) as their grown kids. There is even a funny (if over-the-top) cameo by the late, great comedian Dick Gregory.
While the couple is on the road, the action is rather sweet and funny, though occasionally the situation necessitates that the plot dip into pathos. The ending, in particular, may push things a bit too far, turning a sweet film into something much darker than it was when it started out.
This climax may be a little too manipulative for some people – in fact, it may be too manipulative for me, I’m still debating that in my head – but overall, I am glad I saw The Leisure Seeker.
If for no other reason, it is worth the time to see two of the best actors of their generation getting a chance at meaty roles late in life.
Growing old isn’t easy. And while sometimes The Leisure Seeker does sentimentalize the process and the hard parts of aging, it works best as a bittersweet love story. It is a look at a romance that has survived many slings and arrows and has to take on some drastically hurtful final shots, and tries to do it with dignity.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 16, 2018.