When I see Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, I watch. However, I was surprised to see all the bad reviews. For the second review in a row (the first was Journey’s End), I’m again dissenting from the majority but in the opposite direction.
Synopsis: Ella and John are fleeing the suffocating care of their doctors and grown children. He is distracted but strong; she is frail but sharp. Their journey aboard the faithful old camper they call The Leisure Seeker takes them from Boston to Key West. Sharing moments of exhilaration and anguish, they recapture their passion for life and their love for one another on a road trip that provides revelation and surprise right up to the very end. (eOne Films)
Starring: Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, and Christian McKay
Writers: Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, Francesco Piccolo, and Paolo Virzì
Director: Paolo Virzì
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 112mins
For showtimes and more, check out The Leisure Seeker on movietimes.com.
Some people, regardless of their age, just want to live their lives on their own terms until the end. Perhaps this film wasn’t the deepest exploration of this but it was still a fun road trip film involving an ailing elderly couple named Ella (Mirren) and John Spencer (Sutherland). One day, the couple decided to leave their doctors and their overbearing adult children Will (McKay) and Jane (Janel Moloney) behind to take a trip in their RV called The Leisure Seeker from Boston to Key West.
Being a road trip film, it didn’t stray away from road trip film cliches, however, it was still compelling to watch thanks to Ella and John who were both likable and fun to watch. Over the course of their trip, it wasn’t easy for either of them as John suffered from early onset dementia, leaving Ella to manage her husband’s condition while not being in the greatest condition herself. John’s condition would get him precarious situations which did help to change up the story’s road trip cliches. These situations would sometimes be funny though most were sad. A nice touch was the radio playing songs that happened to represent their current situation. If there was one slight negative about the film, it would be the inconsistent tone as it tried to balance both comedy and drama. It also started to make a political statement by having the Spencers travel the country during the 2016 presidential election but it made no difference to the plot whatsoever.
It was easy to empathize with Ella’s frustration as she missed the person that John used to be, the person who she fell in love with. Ella tried to bring that person back by reminding him of people and/or events from his life. That person would sporadically come out, showing us of how they used to be, before disappearing again. Through the good times and the bad, they grew even closer to one another as their journey rekindled their love for one another. Meanwhile, the Spencer children were constantly worried about their parents and their condition. Other than getting updates about their parents, they served little purpose here. Although this was supposed to provide context, their scenes would often hurt the momentum of Ella and John.
The best part of the film was Mirren and Sutherland’s nuanced performances and excellent chemistry as Ella and John. They were definitely having fun here so it was easy to have fun along with them. Mirren was great as the caring wife, driven by the memories of what her husband used to be. Sutherland was great as well, effortlessly shifting from senile to lucid and charming. It was clear that they loved and cared for each other all the way until the end. McKay and Moloney were fine as Will and Jane but the film could have gone without the children characters as they were a little too caricaturish.
Overall, this was an excellent road trip drama that transcended road trip cliches with a compelling, albeit tonally inconsistent, story that was elevated by the great chemistry and performances from Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland.