The Leisure Seeker Review
Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland star as Ella and John in The Leisure Seeker, a predictable but warm hearted journey down the highway of the lives of a couple married for fifty years. Ella is in cancer remission and Alzheimer's is slowly tightening its grip around John's mind but instead of being a hindrance it spurs them on to hit the road in their 1975 Winnebago - lovingly nicknamed "The Leisure Seeker" - for one last hurrah.
Back at home, their children Will and Jane (Christian McKay and Janel Moloney) flap around in a state of panic worried about their father, but Ella has it all under control, her firm but friendly demeanour keeping them both on the right side of the road. Well, just about. The elderly couple are travelling from Massachusetts to visit Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West, whose work ex-professor John is eager to discuss with anyone from waitresses to gas pump attendants.
Mirren and Sutherland prove to be a good pairing for this gentle road trip giving you the sense of watching two people who have almost run a full lap without losing their deep love and affection for each other. Ella's perky demeanour isn't easily disturbed, with Mirren comfortably moving from frustration at her husband's declining memory to warm empathy and concern within seconds when she sees how much he has been diminished by it.
Along the way Italian director Paolo Virzi (overseeing his first English language film) puts the couple through the expected ups and downs that come with any road film, keeping the humour light and inoffensive although the reality of their health conditions are never ignored. The sign posts of how things will end show up in the headlights early on but it's hard not to be charmed by the couple and overlooking the obvious decisions the script is choosing to make.
With the help of three other writers Virzi transported Michael Zadoorian's novel from 2009 to place it in and around the 2016 Presidential election. The first words heard onscreen are by Trump making his bold promises to put America back on the map. It potentially sets the stage to tie Ella and John's nostalgia trip in with the changes that have occurred within their country over the past four decades, but it's a theme which quickly fades from sight. Aside from a scattering of American flags and stumbling across a #MAGA rally Virzi seems eager to avoid muddying the waters any further.
There isn't much about The Leisure Seeker you won't see coming but then again, this isn't the type of story that demands you reinvent the wheel. It's as middle of the road as a soundtrack that reminisces along to the sounds of Bob Dylan, Carly Simon and Janis Joplin.
But again that's ok. Sometimes all you want is something to push the right buttons at the right time to give you the comfort of familiarity. Not everyone is lucky enough to watch the sun set on their life in the way they'd always imagined. But if you get the chance to write your own story like Ella and John, it would be foolish not to grab it with both hands.