The Leisure Seeker (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir: Paolo Virzi, Italy/France 2017

Cast: Donald Sutherland, Helen Mirren, Christian McKay, Janel Moloney, Dick Gregory

Review by Carlie Newman

The Leisure Seeker is the name of the huge motor home in which the couple travel.

Faced with the prospect of her husband John Spencer (Donald Sutherland) gradually getting worse as his Alzheimer’s disease progresses, Ella Spencer (Helen Mirren) suddenly leaves home with John in their old RV. She has progressive cancer and doesn’t want to leave John alone or, indeed, live without him. She has decided to take her retired lecturer husband from their home in Boston to Ernest Hemmingway’s former home in Key West, Florida.

Having taught English literature, John is very knowledgeable on a number of authors including Hemmingway who he quotes to every waitress. Their children, Will (Christian McKay) and daughter Jane (Janel Moloney) are extremely worried when they discover their parents have fled and eventually learn from phone calls what they are doing although not where they are. They are concerned because the van is very old and their parents are both ill.

The couple meander along meeting people on the way and spending their nights in camping sites, where Ella shows John slides from their earlier life mainly centering round the couple and their children and grandkids. She desperately tries to ward off his progressive Alzheimer’s by trying to get him to focus.

Sometimes he remembers things but mostly forgets and even, at one stop, drives off without his wife, having forgotten that she is with him! Ella is taken by motorbike to catch up with John. In another incident, he insists that she is still in love with an old boyfriend and they go to visit Dan (Dick Gregory) who lives in a home and vehemently rejects both of them.

This is the first film in English of the Italian director Paolo Virzi and he obviously looks at the American landscape from a non-American viewpoint. The actors, too, are not American – Sutherland is Canadian, and Mirren is, of course, British. She uses a Southern accent which sometimes moves a bit!

The two actors work very well together and there is real chemistry between them. You can imagine a long loving relationship. Mirren shows the irritation as well as the great sympathy that any carer of a partner with dementia has to put up with. She really cares for her husband and is devastated at losing the core of him as he descends into forgetfulness. She takes her pills and wears a wig. But Ella knows that her illness is terminal and is very concerned that John will not be able to cope without her.

Nothing very much happens in the course of the film until the end section. The couple drive slowly and so does the film. It’s a tad long but gives us detailed information about coping with dementia even down to dealing with incontinence and the movie has a lot going for it.