Ew! Old-people romance!!
Haha, I’m kidding. Actually, movies like this get clouded by romances featuring young people and those have a tendency to be pretty melodramatic and even annoying. It’s nice to see a movie come out with actors who know what they’re doing and how to do it right. So sign me the hell up.
The story looks like it’s about this old couple. The husband seems to be losing his memory, but they go on a road trip to try and reconnect, or enjoy the final days of his life, or something to that effect.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Helen Mirren (WINCHESTER , EYE IN THE SKY , NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS , THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY , and upcoming films THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS  and ANNA ) and Donald Sutherland (THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 , REIGN OVER ME , FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN , and upcoming films MEASURE OF A MAN  and AD ASTRA ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Paolo Virzi, an Italian filmmaker making his first English-speaking film. Penning the screenplay, we have a red flag total of three additional writers alongside Virzi: Stephen Amidon (screenplay debut; congrats, sir), Francesca Archibugi (foreign projects), and Francesco Piccolo (foreign projects). I guess everyone’s worked together before, so maybe this won’t be a clashing of ideas. Composing the score is Carlo Virzi, who is possibly related to Paolo, and is known for foreign projects. The cinematographer is Luca Bigazzi, known for YOUTH (2015), THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (2011), and a ton of foreign projects. Finally, the editor is Jacopo Quadri, known for THE DREAMERS and a ton of foreign projects.
Overall, the movie looks pretty cute and might very well yank some tears out of me. We shall see, I suppose. Also, this movie popped right out of nowhere. I’m honestly surprised that I saw this at all. I was browsing for films for this upcoming week, and WHAM, this showed up. So, apologies for this late entry.
This is my honest opinion of: THE LEISURE SEEKER
Ella Spencer (Helen Mirren) and her husband John (Donald Sutherland), who suffers from memory loss, have decided to take their RV, the Leisure Seeker, and take a prolonged road trip to Florida to visit Hemingway’s house, something that John has wanted to do for a long time.
No joke… this might be one of my favorite romance films that I’ve seen in a long time. This movie is so cute, emotionally charged, and earnest that I kind of love it.
Let’s start with the indisputable facts. Mirren and Sutherland are pure, unbridled, concentrated brilliance in their respective roles. John is a man who clearly doesn’t have much time left. His health is failing rapidly. The most prominent and recurring problem he faces is that he suffers from memory loss. Whether or not it’s Alzheimer’s, it isn’t explained what exactly it is, is almost unimportant. He forgets who Ella is and sometimes mistakes her Lillian (Dana Ivey), their life-long neighbor and friend. And he’s not completely unaware of his disabilities. He gets frustrated, he gets emotional, which is something I’ve never seen out of Sutherland before. The man’s made a career off of playing creeps and villains, so to see him play someone who is so confused and vulnerable, it’s really heartbreaking. But Sutherland is only one half of this movie’s greatness. His other half, Mirren drives it home as well. Ella has been married to this man for decades. She clearly loves him just as passionately as when they were younger. But John’s deteriorating health is clearly getting to her and she doesn’t quite know how to handle it. She snaps at him when he doesn’t remember things, but she’s quick to apologize and show him love. This is a recurring theme with her. She shows frustration and hurt, but she also shows patience and is reminded of the brilliant man that John used to back when he was in better health. They find time to make jokes, to have heart-to-heart conversations, give each other shit, and make jokes. One of my favorite scenes early on is when Ella is contemplating death and if there’s anything on the other side. But when she asks John this question, a song comes on the radio and he’s blissfully singing away along with it with the biggest smile the man can make, which is infectious to Ella, who sings along. It’s likely that he simply didn’t remember the question, but this is the kind of perfect balance of tenderness and sadness that this movie is marinated beautifully in.
The characters feel hauntingly real. Look at the certain quirks that both Ella and John share: they both love to chit chat. At my day job, we literally have a regular, a woman that will talk your damn ear off. In high school, there was a substitute teacher who prattled on about history. But similar to both John and Ella, as much as you try to tear yourself away, they’re just such nice and sweet people that you politely listen anyway. You’re also praying for them to take a long enough breath to make what you think is a subtle breakaway and resume your responsibilities or every day life, but you can’t find it in your heart to hate them because they mean well. That’s how I see Ella and John; real people that I’ve met. Not them specifically, but people like them and I found their mutual quirk to be charming.
One character who almost made it into my negatives section was Ella and John’s son, Will (Christian McKay). This guy was seriously ready to drive me up the walls with how annoying he is. Look, I get it, his parents have declining heath and to make a spontaneous road trip without knowing where their destined would throw anyone off. But the sheer amount of bitching and moaning, man, I was ready to scream at him. This is what they want to do. Let them do it. Let them have their fun, even it’s the last thing they do. Show some damned respect. But what ultimately drives me to give him a pass is that there is a scene that I feel like showed his humanity. He’s not just a broken record, he has legitimately been intimately taking care of his parents and has gotten little recognition for it, believing that his sister Jane (Janel Moloney) was the favorite child, despite all of his efforts. So I can see where his panicked attitude comes from. He’s frustrated, he’s hurt, he’s worried, but you do clearly see love for his parents. It’s brief scene, and maybe it won’t resonate with everyone who watches it, but I enjoyed this development for his character quite a bit.
I clearly love this movie, but… is the movie perfect? Not at all. I do have my personal issues with it.
For one thing, the movie opens on Carole King’s, “It’s Too Late.” Remember, I work a day job. I have listened to this song several times a week for the last year and half and I am mother fucking sick of it. If you like the song, great, but try listening to it anywhere between four to five times a week for fifteen months. You’ll learn to hate it too. It’s petty, I know, but it’s true. Why does Ella wear a wig? I guess we can assume that she is… shameful of her advanced age and wants to retain at least some of her youth? I don’t know, but the fact remains that it’s never explained. It’s not even addressed and doesn’t really factor into the flick. How many times can Ella set up her slide projector and a group of people will gather around to watch her go through them and try to help John remember his life? Maybe once would be cute enough, but when it happens twice, that’s some divine intervention right there.
I’m not entirely sure what these affair subplots had to do with anything. For one thing, everything involving John’s hatred for Dan Coleman (Dick Gregory; may he rest in peace). Already it’s kind of silly that Ella just happens to know which retirement home he’s staying at and that they’re in close proximity to him, but things escalate way too quickly; John brings his shotgun and starts by pointing is at Ella. First off, this seems way out of character for him, especially since we know that he’s definitely had an affair on Ella when she was pregnant. But fine, the mental thing can be an excuse for some of this. But it still feels like it was something close to an action scene that didn’t need to be there. The same goes for when Ella discovers the affair John had with Lillian. She flips out and immediately takes him to a nursing home to abandon him, drives out somewhere to get drunk, seemingly taking hours to do all of this. While I’m fully aware that affairs hurt like a bitch, believe me, I know, none of her actions feel in tuned with her character and seems almost needlessly cruel. Wouldn’t she have cooled down and reacted differently on the way to the nursing home, rather than following through with it? Again, these dual affair subplots feel forced to provide conflict where the conflict of John’s failing health feels like that’s enough for this story.
People seem way too forgiving of other people’s transgressions. John points a shotgun at Ella, she barely cares. John brings that shotgun to threaten Dan with, no cops called. John breaks Ella out of the hospital, way too easy. Some of these choices are highly suspect.
Overall, what more can I possibly say? It’s romantic. It’s adorable. It’s worked for me on so many levels. I can’t claim that I cried, but I did get choked up once. Yeah, there’s some flaws here and there, and they can be distracting, but I still really like this movie. The critics may disagree, but I recommend this. It’s kind of an indie film, so it may not be easy to find, but if you do, and you like the core cast, I say give it a watch and make up your own mind. If Heaven is real, I want a burger, and another chance to see this movie.
My honest rating for THE LEISURE SEEKER: 4/5