The Leisure Seeker review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There were a few moments within The Leisure Seeker that resonated a certain somber appeal for growing older. Donald Sutherland carries a certain knowing sadness about how easy it is to lose yourself as the mind drifts with age and how you can better remember poetry than your partner. Helen Mirren plays his wife in the film that holds the frustration for reminding him constantly of where he is when he is and who he is. But much like Mirren, this is a broken record of a film that tries to find silly, somber and frightening scenarios for the old couple.
The premise is that Sutherland and Mirren are John and Ella Spencer on a road trip, having ditched their kids who are trying to find out where they’ve gone. Ella is trying to bring John to Hemingway’s home hoping it’ll jog his memory and bring him some joy, as the only time he seems to be extremely happy is when chatting with complete strangers about the famous writer. There are more small moments of joy when he meets former students of his and talks with his family, but Hemmingway makes him most excited as a means of easily connecting with anyone. He nearly springs out of his seat when a waitress opens up about writing on Hemmingway in college.
Ella tries to put up with him but is finding her RV trip with her husband experiencing memory loss to be challenged. He wets himself, forgets plenty, and seems to really be aggravated when he can’t get a burger or have some tea. She wavers between tearfully keeping him together and bitterly deciding to leave him somewhere. It’s hard to not feel that same level of tiredness when dealing with someone who takes off in the RV without her and threatens others with a shotgun.
Everything within this scenario points to the obvious being that John is far too gone in his own mind to be out on his own. While the striving of John and Ella to ditch others that would rather keep them cooped up in a house all day does carry a certain rebelliousness, their journey is ultimately a bitter one. As it goes on, Ella soon realizes that things are never going to get better. John will lose more of his mind and Ella can feel parts of her memories leaning in that direction as well. In a tearful moment, John begs Ella to put the gun in his mouth and tell him to pull the trigger if he’s ever gone too far to remember anything. She can’t bring herself to that point and continues to let the hopelessness build.
There’s a certain appeal to the performances where Sutherland and Mirren have a certain On Golden Pond thing going with their chemistry. But is always seems to be at odds with trying to find odd and absurd things for the couple to do on their road trip. A perfect example of this is setting their story during the 2016 presidential election. John at one point stumbles into a Trump rally and hollers to make America great again. He is soon escorted away by Ella who informs John he was a fervent Democrat. A commentary on the shifting politics of age? Perhaps but it ultimately comes off as just another example of things John has forgotten over an extended period of time.
The Leisure Seeker doesn’t find much leisure over the course of a dramedy that shifts between the sadness of not recognizing family members to the silliness of Mirren drawing a gun on robbing bikers. Despite some strong performances, this type of story merely meanders more than it explores the tough nature of getting older and losing sight of just about everything to dementia. And like many loosely written pictures about the elderly, it’ll soon be forgotten for its mundanity. Well, except for one great exchange.
“Is this heaven?”
“Maybe it is.”
“Can a guy get a burger up here?”