Sunday 12 July 2020

Movie Review: The Leisure Seeker (2017)

A road trip drama and comedy about love in the twilight of life, The Leisure Seeker provides poignant observations on enduring couplehood.

In Massachusetts, elderly married couple John and Ella Spencer (Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren) jump into their 1970s vintage RV, nicknamed Leisure Seeker, and embark on an unannounced road trip. Their adult son Will (Christian McKay) is frantic with worry, but his sister Jane (Janel Moloney) is more understanding.

John is a retired literature professor and big fan of Ernest Hemingway. He is also suffering from creeping dementia and significant memory lapses. Ella is mentally sharp but battling her own health problems. She uses the road trip to help John remember and celebrate his family, with a visit to Hemingway's house in the Florida Keys as an ultimate goal. Despite the deep love between John and Ella, unexpected revelations and continued health challenges will test their bond.

Combining wry pragmatism, feistiness, humour and no shortage of frustration, The Leisure Seeker examines a long-term marriage driving towards its conclusion. Director and co-writer Paolo Virzi ponders late-age resiliency when faced with undeniable mental and physical decay, and tests the limits of dedication when fundamentals are eroding beyond repair. John often forgets where he is and who Ella is, and as the present reality detaches from their core, she struggles to cradle the idea of who they were.

And yet John demonstrates sparks of his old self, with almost infuriating frequency, to both cultivate hope and amplify the agony of his deterioration. Themes of patience, forgiveness, finality, continued emotional and physical dependence and a determination to maintain control converge to provide the film with a warm heart.

The narrative is enhanced by a pleasing and vivid summertime aesthetic. Luca Bigazzi's cinematography captures east coast beauty as seen from backroads twisting through quaint landscapes, RV campsites at their most idyllic, sparkling water and expansive blue skies contributing an impressive backdrop.

The Leisure Seeker clocks in at 112 minutes and would have benefitted from a 10 minute trim, a few scenes serving to only repeat and emphasize points already made. Will and Jane as adult children worried about their parents are left hanging, tidbits of their frustrations introduced but insufficiently developed.

In the front seats, Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren easily ride out any of the film's weaknesses. The two veterans are immediately at ease with each other, and courageously embody long-term devotion strained by intrusive failings.

Smoothly navigating the last stretch of twisty road, The Leisure Seeker combines age and beauty.

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