Film review: The Leisure Seeker

Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland are the big draws for The Leisure Seeker, a road-trip movie in which one of the main characters has Alzheimer's, but old-fashioned star power only gets the film so far, writes Damon Smith

Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland in The Leisure Seeker

MORE than 25 years after they last shared the big screen in Bethune: The Making Of A Hero, Dame Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland reunite for a bitter-sweet journey of self-discovery in The Leisure Seeker.

Director Paolo Virzi's comical road trip is an affectionate character study of fleeting and uneven pleasures, principally the fizzing screen chemistry between the lead actors.

The script is punctuated by deeply touching moments including a memorable sex scene but the tone grinds through gears almost as nosily as the vintage camper van that conveys an ageing couple on their cross-country odyssey.

Potentially meaty subplots are introduced then completely waylaid, or resolved messily without an emotional punchline.

A long-running argument about the wife's enduring affection for one old flame sparks a ludicrous narrative detour to a care home that is the dictionary definition of anticlimax.

Were it not for Mirren and Sutherland's commitment, and their ability to tease out lightness and shade in bickering spouses, the picture would splutter to a standstill.

John Spencer (Sutherland) and his wife Ella (Mirren) live in Boston, Massachusetts, close to their grown-up children Jane (Janel Moloney) and Will (Christian McKay).

Ella is a full-time carer to her husband, who has Alzheimer's and often doesn't recognise her as his beautiful wife.

"I'm so happy when you come back to me," beams Ella to John in one blissful, brief moment when the fog in his mind clears and he reverts to the charming, erudite literary professor she married.

The spectre of cancer comes knocking at Ella's door and she resolves to embark on a final road trip with John to visit the house of one of his idols, Ernest Hemingway, in the Florida Keys.

The couple depart without a word of warning to their children or next-door neighbour Lillian (Dana Ivey) in a 1975 Winnebago christened The Leisure Seeker.

En route to their final destination, John and Ella reminisce fondly about the life they have built, argue about one of the wife's old suitors (Dick Gregory), and debate the husband's aversion to boxer shorts.

"What's so great about briefs?" despairs Ella.

"Control," tersely responds John.

Based on a novel by Michael Zadoorian, The Leisure Seeker is forgotten almost as quickly as John loses his flimsy grasp on faces of the past.

Moloney and McKay have limited screen time to flesh out their concerned offspring, which dulls the impact of a hastily orchestrated and elegiac final act.

The magnetism of the two leads comfortably propels Virzi's picture into its pedestrian second hour but the film can only run on old-fashioned star power for so long as a substitute for a compelling and densely layered plot.

Inevitably, John and Ella's final hurrah judders to a dispiriting halt in a mushroom cloud of exhaust fumes and missed opportunities.

THE LEISURE SEEKER (15, 112 mins) Drama/Comedy/Romance. Dame Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Janel Moloney, Christian McKay, Dana Ivey, Dick Gregory. Director: Paolo Virzi.

Released: April 20 (UK & Ireland)

RATING: 5/10

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