Cruising down the east coast of America in their trusty old RV called The Leisure Seeker, John and Ella Spencer are a couple nearing the ends of their lives.
He’s got dementia and she’s taking pills for a body in distress, so they struggle on this journey, but at least they’re not in a nursing home or a hospital bed, which is where their children and doctors would rather see them.
Donald Sutherland plays John, a beloved ex-school teacher, and Helen Mirren plays Ella, a woman determined to get her husband down to Key West so that he can visit the home of his literary hero, Ernest Hemingway. They’ve left without telling anyone, as if this is some great escape, but as their daughter explains to their worrywart son, there’s probably no reason to get too worked up; John and Ella are doing what they’ve always done – trying to stay together.
The Leisure Seeker is an adaptation of Michael Zadoorian’s 2009 novel by the same name. It’s an American book that was a hit in Italy, and Italian Paolo Virzì has directed the film.
Along with three others, Virzì also wrote the screenplay; it is predictable and full of clichés, but the film manages to get away with it. Maybe it’s because of the light-hearted telling of complex subject matter, or perhaps it is Mirren’s and Sutherland’s outstanding performances. If only the other actors were half as good.
Despite its inevitability, ageing is a vastly overlooked subject in cinema, and for that reason alone The Leisure Seeker is an important film. As a coming-of-age film for people “of a certain age”, it’s perhaps too chock-full of significant moments that teeter on sappy, but Zadoorian’s story manages to keep the melodrama in check so that the film is half-part tragic, half-part optimistic and never pretentious.
I enjoyed it, but then I have a soft spot for Donald Sutherland and want to be more like Helen Mirren … and I love a film that makes me cry.
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