“I love it when you come back to me.”—it is a seemingly innocuous line but speaks volumes about The Leisure Seeker’s exploration into an elderly couple’s wrestle with dementia.
Based on the book by Michael Zadoorian, Italian director Paolo Virzì has helmed a film that is both playful and poignant and illustrates the importance that memories have on life-long relationships.
An ageing couple, John and Ella, head out on an ill-advised road trip aboard their old Winnebago, or “The Leisure Seeker” as it is affectionately nicknamed. John (played by a delightfully polite Donald Sutherland) suffers from dementia. The debilitating memory loss that comes with it sees his day continually break down with moments of total confusion. His long-suffering wife Ella (Helen Mirren) is hiding some of her own medical conditions and sees the road-trip as their last opportunity to drive cross-state and knock a few destinations off their bucket list.
Tonally, The Leisure Seeker is a bit of a conundrum. On the surface, it is a life-affirming road movie bursting with positivity and a lust for life, but this veneer seems to belie the underbelly of some fairly dark material and a couple who are just holding it together. The result is an uneasy tension between buoyant and sombre and its wavering tone renders the film aimless and meandering at times. And although this mimics John’s wayward mental condition, it is awkward to watch. A conscious decision to shoot much of the film in the fading light of day—while appropriate to the protagonist’s predicament—also makes it no easier to digest.
Thankfully Sutherland and Mirren prop up the film despite its tonal disparity. Mirren’s turn as John’s plucky wife is a pleasure to watch and the two stalwarts of the acting fraternity turn in wonderful performances that exude humour, pathos and a genuine sense of chemistry.
But the couple’s spirited performance can’t rise above a film that covers some fairly depressing material. And although The Leisure Seeker wants to celebrate life, the weight if its subject material creates uncertainty about its convictions.
See my reviews for the NZ Herald and NZME here.