“The Leisure Seeker”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Leisure Seeker” (Sony Pictures Classics)


Movies for and about seniors are few and far between, particularly when Helen Mirren teams up with Donald Sutherland for a nostalgic journey.

John Spencer (Sutherland) is a retired English professor, devoted to the works of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Herman Melville. Although he can quote verbatim from literary works, he’s becoming increasingly debilitated from Alzheimer’s/dementia, which renders him incapable of remembering even the most mundane details – like what day it is and his wife’s name.

So it’s Ella Spencer (Mirren), the caretaker, who suggests they climb into their 1975 Winnebago Indian RV, nicknamed the Leisure Seeker, for one last road trip from their home in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to Key West, Florida.  It may be a ridiculous idea, she concedes, but what do they have to lose?

Enjoying the simple pleasures each day brings, they stop at familiar campgrounds along the way. At night, they look at photographs of family and friends that Ella projects onto a makeshift screen. That leads to reminiscing about particular incidents during their decades-long marriage, while accusing each other of alleged infidelities.

Inevitably, their narrative delves into death and dying, particularly the concept of “choosing” how one dies.

None of this sits well with their adult children (Christian McKay, Janel Moloney) who had no idea their parents were leaving. They’re understandably worried because Ella is also gravely ill, masking her pain with medicine and whiskey.

Donald Sutherland delivers a finely textured portrait of a dignified scholar in decline, while Helen Mirren imbues Ella with genuine warmth, despite her contrived and inconsistent Southern accent.

Working from a script he co-wrote with Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi and Francesco Piccolo, based on Michael Zadoorian’s novel, Italian director Paolo Virzi (“Human Capital”) never settles on a consistent tone, perhaps because it’s his first English-language film.

So it never measures up to Jane Fonda/Robert Redford’s “Our Souls at Night” (2017) or Blythe Danner/Sam Elliott’s “I’ll See You In My Dreams” (2016).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Leisure Seeker” is a gentle, bittersweet 6 – notable for its performances.