The Leisure Seeker (M)
Rating: 4 / 5
The trailer for The Leisure Seeker presents it as “the poignant and triumphant tale of a runaway couple who embark on an unforgettable cross-county adventure in their vintage campervan”.
Reading this, you will probably expect a jolly road movie with a couple of ageing eccentrics.
And that’s where the reality of this film diverges from its advertising.
The casting is spectacular, with film royalty Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren as John and Ella Spencer, the couple who decide to take their ageing Winnebago camper, the vehicle they had so many wonderful family holidays in when their children Will and Jane were small, on a grand adventure to see Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West.
John is a retired English professor with a passion for Hemingway, while Jane is his vibrant wife whose motto is that life is for living and she seizes every opportunity to live it.
But as John has advancing dementia and Jane has refused more treatment for late-stage cancer, there is a grim reality underpinning their real-life road movie.
Director Paolo Virzì describes his leading characters as having “a subversive spirit, rebellion against a hospitalisation which is being forced on them by doctors, their children, and social and medical regulations”.
That is the real heart of this film, which bravely tackles many issues that will be familiar to a baby boomer audience with elderly parents in their lives.
What is splendid about this film is its refusal to sugar-coat issues and pretend that everything in the garden is hunky dory. At times, the film is graphic in portraying the effect of the mental and physical health issues the couple are facing. And we share Ella’s heartbreak as she sees the love of her life slipping in and out of the man he once was, and who he is desperately still trying to be.
This is no Hollywood happy ever after story, and having an Italian director who has written the screenplay makes this a most believable film that pulls no punches, but still has many flashes of joy and humour, as well as wonderful photography of coastal America.
Mirren and Sutherland are giants of the film industry, and the chemistry between them simply works, whether it’s a quiet intimate moment, or a full blown hissy fit with things being thrown—these characters are normal people we may have in our own families or who live next door. Mirren and Sutherland are simply superb and fit their roles like a glove.
Director Virzì has a clear vision for The Leisure Seeker, saying that it is about an elderly married couple who are determined to avoid a destiny of medical care which would have separated them forever.
And that’s the crux of the film. But a word of warning—some viewers will find the resolution of the film confronting and disturbing, but the journey to the end is well worth taking.
Highlight: Brilliant performances from Mirren and Sutherland and breathtaking scenery
Red flag: Coarse language, adult themes and a controversial ending.