Poignant Reflections

The title of Italian director Paolo Virzi’s (b. 1964) first English-language movie refers not to a person, but an RV owned by an ageing American couple, John and Ella. Played by Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren, this bickering pair is still in love after fifty years of marriage, despite serious illness clouding their lives. Much to the consternation of their grown-up children, they decide to take a trip in The Leisure Seeker – a dusty old 1975 Winnebago Indian RV to be precise – leaving their home in New England and travelling south to Key West.

John, a former literature professor, who is now sadly slipping towards dementia, is desperate to pay a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s house, which is now something of a tourist hotspot. At least this is a sound choice by Virzi and his three fellow screenwriters, given Michael Zadoorian’s source novel had his protagonists heading to Disneyland. Mirren’s Ella, who self-medicates with alcohol and prescription pills, also has her own deteriorating physical condition, which comes into play as the story unfolds.

Mostly, though, she’s dealing with the happy-go-lucky John and his forgetfulness, which becomes increasingly difficult. One minute John lectures waitresses on various literary titans, the next he’s disappearing into a cloud of unknowing, barely able to remember who Ella is. Inevitably, Virzi uses this for dramatic revelations, digging beneath the surface where jealousies and resentments fester.

Their first movie together since 1990’s Bethune: The Making of a Hero, Mirren and Sutherland are always engaging to watch, although the chemistry doesn’t really sizzle here. The picaresque nature of the journey means these pit-stops are very hit and miss, although the moment where John accidentally joins a pro-Trump rally is deliciously played.

Unfortunately, the longer their trip goes on, the more likely you are to want it to end. There’s a sense that it runs out of gas – or at least needs a metaphorical tyre change – and by the final act it is all too easy to lose patience.

The Leisure Seeker opens in cinemas on 20 April. Find out more here. 

James Mottram

1. From The Leisure Seeker.