The Leisure Seeker
dir Paolo Virzi
scr Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, Paolo Virzi, Francesco Piccolo
prd Marco Cohen, Fabrizio Donvito, Benedetto Habib
with Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay, Janel Moloney, Dick Gregory, Kirsty Mitchell, Gabriella Cila, Marc Fajardo, Matt Mercurio, Chelle Ramos, Nicholas Barrera, Robert Pralgo
release US 9.Mar.18, UK 4.May.18
17/US Rai 1h52
The Leisure Seeker
Hit the road: Sutherland and Mirren

mckay maloney
venice film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Leisure Seeker There's an askance loopiness about this film that blurs the lines between a lively road comedy and a darker exploration of mortality. It helps that it stars the effortlessly offbeat Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, who add layers of edgy subtext to their broad characters and on-the-nose dialog. As it travels down America's East Coast, the film tries to pack in a lot of nostalgia and a whiff of politics, but it's the more internalised moments that are most effective.

In suburban Massachusetts, middle-aged Will (McKay) finds his parents missing, along with their vintage Winnebago, christened The Leisure Seeker. His sister Jane (Maloney) is also in the dark. Indeed, Ella and John (Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland) have run off to avoid any more doctors' appointments. And Ella has a plan to drive to Key West so retired literature professor John can finally visit the home of his favourite author, Hemingway. The hitch is that Ella isn't well and John's short-term memory is gone, which leads to a series of adventures and crises.

The script never leaves anything to chance, pointing out every story element as the characters announce their thoughts and intentions. Even Mirren and Sutherland struggle with this, but manage to add a layer of discovery beneath obvious frustrations and nostalgia. They also make Ella and John complex, likeable, relentlessly curious people who are enjoying their odyssey. Their interaction in the face of John's deteriorating condition is often deeply touching.

McKay and Maloney have a tougher time, as their characters exist mainly for exposition purposes. Maloney gets one terrific moment, but McKay's character seems wilfully vague, as if the filmmakers were afraid to admit something rather fundamental about him. Then along the road, Ella and John encounter a variety of colourful people who add interest and some spice. But no one ever feels terribly real; they're pawns in the screenwriters' game.

What makes this worth a look is the gentle exploration of a relationship that has been through ups and downs, including this debilitating illness, while a deep commitment to each other trumps any problems. Sometimes the movie wallows in its memories, as Ella and John put on family slide shows in campgrounds down the coast. And there are times when the complications feel rather contrived, as does the final act resolution. But Mirren and Sutherland make this a film that's impossible to write off.

cert 15 themes, language, brief sexuality 3.Sep.17 vff

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