Drama / Films / Reviews

The Leisure Seeker tackles heavy subject matter but remains unconvincing throughout

The Leisure Seeker wastes no time throwing me into an RV with old-timers Ella (Helen Mirren) and John (Donald Sutherland) Spencer. Almost as quickly as the film throws you into the driver’s seat, I realized director Paolo Virzì is dealing with heavy subject matter. And, even though I was most likely the youngest person in the audience, I sympathized with this tale to an extent.

I just wish it were a shorter road trip, among other things.

The film opens in Massachusetts, where the Spencers reside. It’s 2016 and the film doesn’t shy away from political implications of that year — there’s a truck with Trump stickers and flags driving past John and Ella’s son, Will (Christian McKay). Will arrives at his parents’ house only to find that they’ve taken their RV, The Leisure Seeker, out on an unexpected trip. Will’s a frantic man and overprotective of his elderly parents, so immediately him and his sister Jane (Janel Moloney) work on getting in touch with them. Like I alluded to earlier, the film quickly shifts to Ella and John and thus begins our bleak road trip.

The Leisure Seeker relies, of course, on the shoulders of actors Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren. Both are veterans in Hollywood and know how to control a film, so it was a bit odd to see them engaged in what looked like unnatural conversations for the initial chunk of this film. The dialogue just didn’t feel right.

When we first meet Ella and John, John is raving about his cheeseburger craving. Ella appeases him by going to a diner, even though it’s breakfast time. Here we learn more about John and how much he loves author Ernest Hemmingway, whose Key West house John and Ella are planning on visiting during their road trip. I appreciated the charming moments of personality like this, but screenwriter Stephen Amidon kept straying away from these encounters the moment they began to surface.

That plays into a huge flaw in The Leisure Seeker, which is the film throwing us into the mix without much preface into WHO John and Ella really are as people. I understand the film embodies a learn-as-you-go mentality, but it didn’t work here. And speaking of things that didn’t work: the humor.

I couldn’t understand why we needed to hear Mirren crack a wise joke in the midst of another sad episode of memory loss for John. When we reach the climax, why is it coupled with both a tragic moment and a…cheery wedding where John chooses to dance for far too long? I couldn’t buy into the more depressing sequences because almost nothing felt compelling and tones continually clashed. I wish I were allowed to live in the moment without distractions.

And lest I forget the terrible voice of actor Christian McKay. I figured he might at least attempt an accent from Massachusetts. Instead, we get this annoying voice that actually plays down what should have been crucial moments in this film.


Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

There’s some good in the technical aspect of The Leisure Seeker. The use of natural lightning and vast on-location shots by cinematographer Luca Bigazzi provided a very personal feel to the film. Bigazzi bringing over a touch of Italian cinema for American audiences resulted in a pretty series of shots.

However, I simply wasn’t compelled by this tale that was predictable up until its end, which honestly didn’t strike me as effective, either. Mirren clearly outshines every other actor, but it just isn’t enough. The Leisure Seeker runs too long, and sputters too often along the way.

I was invited to an advanced screening for purposes of this review, thanks to Allied Integrated Marketing and Sony Pictures. 

The Leisure Seeker is rated-R, runs 1 hour and 52 minutes and releases in theaters on March 9, 2018.

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