In a contemporary political landscape, it’s something of an inevitability that filmmakers will use a Trump-infested America as a backdrop to set their narrative – and it’s what Paolo Virzi has done with The Leisure Seeker, taking place during the campaigning that preceded the current President’s time in office. However it does little to enrich the story at hand, feeling superfluous in its inclusion. Also, in a bid to explore the liberal American public, it’s somewhat ironic they’ve had to cast English and Canadian actors.
Helen Mirren plays Ella, who decides, on a whim, to set off with her husband John (Donald Sutherland) in their reliable old RV they call the Leisure Seeker, on what feels like one final vacation. Annoying their two concerned children (Janel Moloney and Christian McKay) they intend to visit Hemingway’s house, given John is such an ardent fan, and it’s a place he’s never visited before. Along the way they encounter many an obstacle to overcome – while John’s memory loss causes problems for them both, though not enough to stop them reigniting their passion for life – and for each other.
The film has a palpable warmth to it, and it becomes apparent rather swiftly into proceedings that one of, if not both of the protagonists will die. Now you would imagine that such a realisation would make for an emotionally charged, moving endeavour – and yet, somehow, it doesn’t. It’s not a reflection on either actor either, as they both impress, despite the mediocre screenplay. There’s a vacancy to Sutherland’s demeanour, as he has this remarkable ability to seem so lost when he’s unable to remember something, just in his eyes alone. Meanwhile Mirren portrays her role in an authentic manner, she has an endearing blissful sense of optimism, complete with a resourcefulness and the ability to just make do.
John’s condition is relatively well-handled, and while cliched at times, there are inclusions that are realistic, and seldom seen when tackling memory loss on screen. Such as his frustration when his wife doesn’t understand what he’s trying to say, and her lack of patience when he forgets things, it’s not just pity and empathy – she gets fed up throughout the movie, and it’s more genuine to see this reaction.
Sadly the film has its fair share of shortcomings though, such as any scene featuring their neurotic children, which are terribly annoying, and also the frustrating inclination to inject so much drama into the narrative in such a contrived manner. There needs to be more faith in the characters and their emotional journey, without the constant need to add needless narrative devices to help try and provide adventure. There’s one scene where they get mugged, for example, and it just takes you out of the story completely.
It feels like there is the potential here for a really congenial piece of cinema, and yet it just persists in letting you down. Not to mention the fact they keep saying “Leeshure Seeker” which will consistently annoy audiences from the UK. But hey, there is a scene where we witness Mirren and Sutherland dancing to disco hit Don’t Leave Me This Way – which gives the film some much needed brownie points. But not enough. Thelma Houston, we have a problem.