Placing reliable talent like Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren together seems practically like a fail-safe for any type of film production. Here you have two old professionals doing what they do best, in a film that hands them the type of roles they could perfect in their sleep. And yet, despite fine work from the aforementioned twosome, The Leisure Seeker never rises above the mediocrity and predictability it so frustratingly presents to us.
Almost as if too scared to tackle the subject matter at hand with an air of realism – Mirren’s Ella is succumbing to her cancer diagnosis, Sutherland’s John being dimmed by intermittent dementia – writer/director Paolo Virzi (helming his first English-language feature) and screenwriters Francesca Archibugi, Franceso Piccolo and Stephen Amidon fill the film with schmaltz and obvious plot ploys. We’re unsurprised when John flirts with a small town waitress in one of the countless diners they stop in as they travel across America in an RV (dubbed “The Leisure Seeker”, how appropriate!), or when a duo of crims attempt to rob them in a flat tire incident, or when Ella constantly berates John out of frustration for his condition; what is surprising though, yet completely unnecessary, is the pro-Trump rally John joins (the film is set in the summer of 2016) on one of his aimless walks, a political hot-point that adds nothing to the overall arc in any manner.
The film also fails to create characters beyond John and Ella that we care about, with their adult children (Christian McKay and Janel Moloney) doing little beyond complaining about their recklessness in leaving on a trip instead of focusing on their own health, and the abundance of side characters adding to no more than glorified extras. It’s a real shame too as there could’ve been worthy drama laced throughout the moments of levity that would’ve added a considerable weight to John and Ella’s conditions. Ultimately, a film that isn’t afraid to make its audience feel uncomfortable would’ve been appreciated over the hopeful crowd-pleasing this so obviously aims for.
Mirren and Sutherland deserve so much better than this, but it’s because of their greatness as both individual performers and a collective unit that The Leisure Seeker survives as long as it does.