×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Leisure Seeker’

Not even two actors as talented as Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland can save this dreadfully predictable Alzheimer's road movie.

Director:
Paolo Virzi
With:

Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay, Janel Moloney, Dana Ivey, Dick Gregory. (English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3741632/

There are Alzheimer’s movies that cut to the quick, like “Still Alice,” and then there are Alzheimer’s movies that pander to the worst sort of cheaply-manipulative old-folks cutesiness, like “The Leisure Seeker.” Maybe if there were one crumb of genuine flavor in this stale cheese, it could have passed muster, but this is ersatz curd, dressed up by the presence of Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland without doing credit to either. The bite of Italian director Paolo Virzì’s best films (such as “Human Capital”) is completely absent, replaced not even by dentures but a kind of pandering gumminess.

With a script that signals every progression as obviously as the large-lettered signs used in homes for people with dementia, viewers can guess after 10 minutes exactly how this predictable story is going to end. Still, with these two pros above the title, distributors should be able to attract the blue-rinse crowd at least.

What they’ll get is an anodyne depiction of the U.S. that’s the reverse equivalent of those American-made movies set in Italy, where people are cut-out stereotypes and everything is bee-oo-tee-full. Author Stephen Amidon helped the Italian scripters adapt Michael Zadoorian’s novel, but he’s not able to ensure Virzì can feel the cadence of the English language, and consequently, dialogue delivery lacks a sense of naturalness, not helped by Mirren’s contrived South Carolina accent.

The only real surprise here occurs in the first two minutes, when it seems Virzì is about to take a powerful swipe at his host country: as Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” fills the speakers, her plaintive “something has died” is almost drowned out by a Trump campaign truck on the manicured streets of Wellesley, Mass., blasting the future president’s “make America great again” pitch. The juxtaposition makes you think there’s going to be some political or social commentary here, but no, that promising subtext is subsequently ignored.

Popular on Variety

It can be argued that all road movies resemble one another, but this one doesn’t even try to make the journey feel fresh. Ultra-chatty Ella Spencer (Mirren) decides the time has come to take out the old Winnebago, nicknamed the Leisure Seeker, and drive with her retired high-school-English-teacher husband John (Sutherland) down to Key West to visit the Hemingway house. The catch is that John has Alzheimer’s and Ella’s on medication, wears a wig and occasionally doubles over with pain. (Gosh, might she have a life-threatening illness?) Their prissy son Will (Christian McKay) freaks out that they’ve disappeared, while their professor daughter Jane (Janel Moloney) expresses concern but keeps it more together.

Meanwhile, Ella and John happily hit the road, stopping at diners and spending nights at camper sites, where they project old family slides onto a screen and welcome other RV owners who’ve clearly got nothing more entertaining to do than view the faded Kodachromes of a couple of strangers. John’s windows of lucidity are unpredictable, and Ella is emotionally exhausted from watching her adored husband lose his memory. What he does remember are passages from his beloved Hemingway and James Joyce, though Ella apparently was never interested in literature. Regarding Tennessee Williams: “Wasn’t he one of the writers you used to love? I seem to remember you took me to one of his plays once,” she drawls, as the tone-deaf script unintentionally strangles any notion of these two as a like-minded couple for the ages, notwithstanding the avalanche of affectionate “my loves” and “honeys” and “darlings” exchanged between them.

Virzì can’t let plot points just happen, but pre-signals them at every opportunity, whether it’s Ella’s pill-taking or that oh-so-casual shot of her covering up a shotgun in the RV’s overhead compartment. Limited by their material, Mirren and Sutherland disappoint, and the few secondary roles are poorer still, especially the insufferable character of Will, whom we’re meant to believe is a closeted gay man still hiding his sexuality from his parents. As for Dick Gregory’s cameo, it’s best to pass over in silence the final role of one of America’s most groundbreaking comedians.

“The Leisure Seeker” is set in summer 2016, during election season, allowing for a brief and very contrived scene at a Trump rally, far weaker than that aforementioned Carole King moment, plus lots of American flags along roadsides. Although shot entirely in the States, everything feels artificial, from bland images in trailer parks to a hold-up scene that can only be described as inept. While such phoniness may pass the believability test offshore, U.S. reaction will be far more critical.

Film Review: 'The Leisure Seeker'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 3, 2017. (Also in Toronto Film Festival – Gala.) Running time: 111 MIN.

Production:

(Italy) A 01 Distribution release of a Bac Films Distribution, Indiana Production, Rai Cinema presentation of an Indiana Production production, with Rai Cinema, in collaboration with Motorino Amaranto, in association with 3 Marys Entertainment, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Groupama Assicurazioni. (International sales: Bac Films, Paris.) Producers: Fabrizio Donvito, Marco Cohen, Benedetto Habib, Marty Eli Schwartz. Executive producers: Alessandro Mascheroni, Dov Mamann, Daniel Campos Pavoncelli, Cobi Benatoff, David Grumbach, Mathieu Robinet, Gilles Sousa, Bryan Thomas. Coproducer, Elisabetta Boni.

Crew:

Director: Paolo Virzì. Screenplay: Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, Francesco Piccolo, Virzì, based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian. Camera (color, widescreen): Luca Bigazzi. Editor: Jacopo Quadri. Music: Carlo Virzì.

With:

Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay, Janel Moloney, Dana Ivey, Dick Gregory. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Arab and African Filmmakers Are Increasingly

    Arab and African Filmmakers Are Increasingly Focusing on Genre Films and Series

    2019 has been an excellent year for films from Africa and the Middle East, with a higher presence in A-list festivals, and kudos for films such as Mati Diop’s “Atlantics,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes. The “new wave” of Arab and African cinema includes a small group of films that explore links with [...]

  • Producer Said Hamich on 'Zanka Contact,'

    Producer Said Hamich on Atlas Workshop Winner 'Zanka Contact,' Upcoming Projects

    Two projects from Franco-Moroccan producer Saïd Hamich won big at the Marrakech Film Festival’s Atlas Workshop this year, with the upcoming Kamal Lazraq-directed feature “Les Meutes” nabbing a development prize and the recently wrapped “Zanka Contact” winning an $11,000 post-production grant. “Zanka Contact” director Ismaël El Iraki was on-hand to present 10 minutes of footage, [...]

  • Major Film Festivals Are Becoming Key

    Major Film Festivals Are Becoming Key in Promoting Films From the Arab World, Africa

    Looking back at the lineups of key festivals such as Cannes and Venice this year, 2019 stands out as a banner year for movies from the African continent and the Arab world. During a panel hosted at the Netflix-sponsored industry event Atlas Workshops during the Marrakech Film Festival, Rémi Bonhomme, who works at Cannes’ Critics’ [...]

  • Robert RedfordRobert Redford tribute, 18th Marrakech

    Robert Redford Talks About Potential Next Film, U.S. Politics, Life Philosophy

    During a 90-minute onstage conversation at the Marrakech Film Festival, where he received an honorary tribute, Robert Redford spoke about his life-long quest for truth and freedom, and his political engagement through films, as well as a long-gestating project he’s considering producing, despite having announced his retirement. When he has spoken about the project, “109 [...]

  • For Sama SXSW Cannes Documentary

    'For Sama' Wins Best Feature at International Documentary Association Awards

    Syrian Civil War diary “For Sama” has won the best feature award from the International Documentary Association for Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts. The award was presented by Frances Fisher on Saturday night at the 35th Annual IDA Documentary Awards at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. The first-time award for Best Director went to Steven Bognar and Julia [...]

  • Two/One

    Macao Film Review: 'Two/One'

    Sometimes when you look out of an airplane window during a long-haul flight you get a view like the God’s-eye imagery that occasionally punctuates Argentinian filmmaker Juan Cabral’s intriguing debut: a dark, curved horizon rimmed with the glimmer of a new dawn. “Two/One,” the celebrated advertising director’s first full-length feature, seems born of this lofty, [...]

  • Colombia’s ‘Valley of Souls’ Wins Marrakech’s

    Colombia’s ‘Valley of Souls’ Wins Marrakech’s Etoile d’Or

    The 18th edition of the Marrakech Intl. Film Festival awarded the Etoile d’Or for best film to Colombia’s “Valley of Souls,” directed by Nicolás Rincón Gille. In his acceptance speech the director said: “Colombia is a country that people know very little about. But in this film I try to offer a glimpse of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content