Review: ‘The Leisure Seeker’ sticks to the trite and true

Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren in the movie "The Leisure Seeker."
(Sony Pictures Classics)

Better screen representation for older actors starts with not making movies like “The Leisure Seeker,” a soggy East Coast road trip saga in which Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland valiantly pretend that rogue treatment of debilitating illnesses has its funny/endearing side.

They play the Spencers — John (Sutherland), a retired English professor with Alzheimer’s, Ellen (Mirren), his devoted, bedridden, Southern-belle wife — who take their long-cherished 1975 Winnebago Indian on one last RV vacation, without anybody’s knowledge, especially their worried adult children (Christian McKay, Janel Moloney). If the premise already triggers your aversion to the contrived application of disease and highway adventure to matters of the heart, Italian director/co-screenwriter Paolo Virzi’s adaptation of Michael Zadoorian’s novel — his first English-language film — won’t add anything to your wariness other than trite situations and shallow insight.

John chats up waitresses about Hemingway or zags into bouts of jealousy in which he thinks he and Ellen are much younger, while she nurses his memory loss with slide shows and a steady stream of tart patter. Mirren is expectedly fizzy, Sutherland admirably true to the ups and downs of his affliction, and the hard, sentimental horizon ahead is so clear the movie is blinded to any detours that might enliven or illuminate this most cliched of scenarios. The stars are as imprisoned as their characters’ respective frailties.

What’s even more alarming is Virzi’s last movie, “Like Crazy,” is this one’s exact opposite: a deliriously enjoyable, truly offbeat, desperation-driven travelogue. “The Leisure Seeker,” on the other hand, is a slow lane slog.



‘The Leisure Seeker’

Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

Rating: R, for some sexual material

Playing: The Landmark, West L.A.

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March 8, 2018: Updated to reflect new theater when re-opening following December qualifying run,