The Leisure Seeker
On a basic moviegoing level, what’s not to like about the prospect of a South Carolina accented Helen Mirren and a professorial Donald Sutherland going head-to-head in an old Winnebago?
The Leisure Seeker largely delivers on that potential, serving up generous road trip charms alongside a respectful handling of dementia and what it takes to keep a marriage healthy.
The two beloved performers play Massachusetts retirees Ella and John Spencer, who make an unannounced voyage to Key West in their titular RV so that the latter may at last see his dear Ernest Hemingway’s house.
Based on Michael Zadoorian’s novel, its numerous travelogue standards are frequently subverted by John’s condition and inspire distinct emotional jolts like the joy and sadness of the couple watching a slideshow each night in attempts to bolster his memory.
While the Spencers are navigating the highways and the many adventures it provides, their children Jane (Janel Moloney, HBO’s The Leftovers) and Will (Christian McKay, Me & Orson Welles) comically fret from back home, unclear on their parents’ whereabouts and increasingly befuddled with each new call from Ella.
In lensing it all, Italian director Paolo Virzì follows in the tradition of many non-American filmmakers and grants a distinct outsider’s beauty to sights familiar to the audience, and though he and his screenwriting team’s decision to set the story in the summer of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and loop in a Trump rally are intriguing, they ultimately prove superfluous.
Also somewhat problematic is The Leisure Seeker’s ending, which feels true to the characters and their plight, but, even taking into account the unpredictability inherent with John’s health, arises in a slapdash manner at odds with the deliberate pacing up to that point. As such, there’s a sense that the Spencers deserve better, yet the lingering memroies of the entertaining and rewarding time spent with them helps lessen the blow.
Grade: B. Rated R. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse