The Leisure Seeker: A Clunker That Revs Charm

Movie Review: The Leisure Seeker

Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland reunite for a predictable ride into the sunset that pays a visit to On Golden Pond in an RV.

The Leisure Seeker

3.5/5

Starring: Donald Sutherland, Helen Mirren, Janel Maloney, Christian McKay

Directed by: Paolo Virzi

Running time: 1hr 52 mins

Rating: Restricted

By Katherine Monk

It lacks subtlety, but when you’re setting On Golden Pond in an RV, there’s no point in polite finesse. The confines ensure you’re going to see someone half-naked whether you want to or not, and the boxy shape makes graceful steering impossible.

So give director Paolo Virzi some credit for driving this clunker like a true Italian, and swerving all over the senior citizen’s genre in a simple bid to entertain as well as move. He brings a crazy touch to the wheel, but it’s the two leads who power this beast to the finish line by selling us the core relationship.

Meet John and Ella Spencer (Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren), married for over 50 years with two grown children (Janel Maloney, Christian McKay) who now worry about their welfare. For good reason: John used to teach literature and be the wit of the party, but he’s having some cognitive issues. Ella is doing her best to cope with his decline, but she’s entertaining denial to nudge herself toward happiness.

It’s the story of a generation, and the generation that follows, explored via the claustrophobic vehicle of a single family. Novelist Michael Zadoorian charted the course that takes us from a suburban home in Detroit to Ernest Hemingway’s home on the Florida Keys, but we pretty much know where this trip is heading from the moment of departure.

It’s the story of a generation, and the generation that follows, explored via the claustrophobic vehicle of a single family.

John and Ella want to reconnect with their happiest times, a young family bounding around the country in an RV, discovering history and making memories in the same breath. These moments that define us pass so quickly that their quest to relive a small part of them is completely understandable, even if it’s a tad sad.

The wheels never get stuck in maudlin because Mirren and Sutherland create so much dramatic momentum, they keep things rolling, no matter what. More importantly, neither character shrinks from the truth. They are grown-ups playing grown-ups, in leak-protective undergarments.

The movie delivers these undeniable realities with matter-of-fact bluntness, which will clearly be off-putting to anyone who hasn’t lived through it. For those who have, The Leisure Seeker’s frankness actually comes as a relief, de-stigmatizing all the signs of aging our society works so hard to erase.

Mirren and Sutherland also seem a little relieved to be playing ordinary people. Reunited for the first time since they shared the screen on Bethune: The Making of a Hero — Philip Borsos’s 1990 biopic about the Canadian doctor who became a Chinese saviour — the two veterans find a natural chemistry together as they nag and cuddle down the road.

They take delight in each scene, and each other, which not only makes the relationship between John and Ella feel authentic, it’s like watching a master class in scene work — from two entirely different schools. Sutherland is the method man, staying in character through each take, and re-reading Hemingway and Joyce to get into John’s head. Mirren is the classical Queen, a onetime member of the Royal Shakespeare Company who comes prepared, executes on command, and leaves the character when she hears “cut.”

The movie delivers these undeniable realities with matter-of-fact bluntness, which will clearly be off-putting to anyone who hasn’t lived through it. For those who have, The Leisure Seeker’s frankness actually comes as a relief, de-stigmatizing all the signs of aging our society works so hard to erase.

The two exchange lines and glances like pro ballers playing catch: They know where to put it, with just the right spin. In the press notes, Virzi says “maybe they didn’t even need a director.” And while that’s not entirely true, you get the feeling if they’d been given a chance to really drive the movie, and veer off-route into full improvisation, The Leisure Seeker would have been more than an earnest and truly moving take on the inevitable. It could have been unpredictable.

Mirren and Sutherland do what they can within the wheeled cabin. They come very close to the timeless performances from Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond. But they only pull up in the campsite down the road. The Leisure Seeker simply wasn’t made to last. The material is cheap. Yet, with little more than palpable, mutual respect, the two leads salvage a little work of art from the scrap by welding the arcs of two lives into one.

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS, March 15, 2018

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Review: The Leisure Seeker

User Rating

3.3 (23 Votes)

Summary

3.5Score

Paolo Virzi adapts Michael Zadoorian’s novel about a longtime couple to the big screen with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. Reunited for the first time since they shared the screen on Bethune: The Making of a Hero — Philip Borsos’s 1990 biopic about the Canadian doctor who became a Chinese saviour — the two veterans find a natural chemistry together as they nag and cuddle down the road. The movie follows a predictable route, but it delivers the undeniable realities of aging with matter-of-fact bluntness, which will clearly be off-putting to anyone who hasn’t lived through it. For those who have, The Leisure Seeker’s frankness actually comes as a relief, de-stigmatizing all the signs of aging our society works so hard to erase. -- Katherine Monk

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