Paolo Virzi’s The Leisure Seeker wastes no time getting started. No sooner are we introduced to its world than we are listening to a phone call of a son screaming at his sister that their sickly old parents have run away from home. These parents are Ella and John (Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland), who have decided to embark on one last road trip in their RV, “The Leisure Seeker”, before they’re overcome by Ella’s cancer or John’s worsening dementia.
Mirren and Sutherland are a very strong duo, and they carry The Leisure Seeker through its endless strange shifts in tone, from serious look at frail, ailing bodies, to zany caper (in one spectacularly ill-advised sequence, they stick up a nursing home with a shotgun). Mirren’s is the more charismatic presence, though Sutherland perhaps has a harder task, flitting in and out of a demented state.
John’s switches between lucidity and confusion are well conveyed by Sutherland, but they land at plot-crucial moments too constantly for the illness to feel entirely believable. The tremendous acting pushes through a lot of these problems, though the supporting cast aren’t remotely as good – Christian McKay, as their son, is particularly jarring, whiny and strained in a generic “worried carer” role.
Virzi makes a lot of effort to let us know that the road trip is taking place in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, John and Ella getting stuck behind rallies for both Trump and Clinton, but this turns out to be nothing more than background colour.
Virzi still manages some moving grace notes, the two illnesses weighing the couple down in distressing ways as they come to terms with the pasts they’ve lost and their own mortality. It’s manipulative – especially the ending – but undeniably effective, if only for short bursts.
CAST: Dick Gregory, Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland
DIRECTOR: Paolo Virzì
WRITERS: Michael Zadoorian (novel); Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, Paolo Virzì, Francesco Piccolo (screenplay)
SYNOPSIS: A runaway couple go on an unforgettable journey in the faithful old RV they call The Leisure Seeker.[TRAILER FORTHCOMING]