Even Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland can't save a movie written by a quartet of screenwriters who can't seem to write their way out of a scene without resorting to unbelievable coincidence or maudlin sentimentality. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
It seems like fun, doesn’t it, to take a road trip with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland? Maybe not. “The Leisure Seeker,” directed by Italian filmmaker Paolo Virzì and written by no fewer than four screenwriters, takes that pleasant-sounding premise and squishes it, slowly, in its heavy hands. Mirren plays Ella, a sweetly garrulous Southerner transplanted long ago to New England and now in fragile health; Sutherland is her husband John, a former English teacher who suffers from dementia. Defying the wishes of their middle-aged children (Christian McKay, Janel Moloney), they take off from their Boston home in their ’75 Winnebago, determined to take one last trip together.
John, it turns out, has the kind of extremely convenient movie dementia that surfaces only when it’s useful to the plot; Ella, likewise, is perfectly fine except when she isn’t. That radio in the Winnebago seems set to an Ironic Songs for Ailing Lovers station, playing “It’s Too Late,” “If You Leave Me Now” and, later in a hotel room, “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” And that quartet of screenwriters can’t seem to write their way out of a scene without resorting to unbelievable coincidence or maudlin sentimentality.
Lesser actors would have drowned in the muck, but these two almost sell it. Mirren, having fun with a chewy Southern accent, has some devastating moments; one, in which Ella thinks John is forever lost, is so nakedly brokenhearted it’s hard to watch. (The light goes out of her eyes, and her features seem to lose definition; just the usual everyday miracle of a great actor’s face.) Sutherland, whose character slips in and out of the present, shrewdly underplays the role, giving John a low-key, gentle vulnerability. Both performers are treasures; both deserve, together and separately, a better showcase than this.
★★ “The Leisure Seeker,” with Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay, Janel Moloney. Directed by Paolo Virzì, from a screenplay by Stephen Amidon, Francesca Archibugi, Francesco Piccolo and Virzì, based on the book by Michael Zadoorian. 112 minutes. Rated R for some sexual material. Meridian, Dine-In Seattle 10 (21+).