How a love affair begins is love on the easy side–fresh and filled with possibilities, but what might seem hot and heavy in the beginning can easily cool after few years, a few months or, in the social media world, a few seconds on one’s smart phone. Paolo Virzi’s first full English language film is about love in the twilight of time, where wrinkled faces and faulty memories are at work. If love has survived, there is little future except somewhere past this physical world. Based on a 2009 book of the same name by Michael Zadoorian, “The Leisure Seeker” is about the last road trip of a long married couple, John and Ella Spencer, played sympathetically by Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren.
The title comes from the couple’s affectionate name for their vintage camper. They’ve taken family vacations over the years, but now their kids are adults and are becoming more parental and not without cause. John was once a professor of English literature, specializing in Ernest Hemingway. For some reason, they never took the Leisure Seeker from their Wellesley, Massachusetts home to the Key West site of Hemingway’s home, something that John always wanted to do.
This is a road trip, a last act of rebellion where John and Ella leave their doctors and their adult children, Jane (Janel Moloney) and Will (Christian McKay), behind. John drives; Ella directs. At night, Ella attempts to keep John’s memory of their live together alive by showing slides from their past. What John does remember is lines from literature.
If nothing else, “The Leisure Seeker” reminds us that we should not wait until later to fulfill simple dreams and that painful secrets can spill out, disastrously at the wrong time. And that true love is one that lasts in sickness, when one has more wrinkles and less hair, more aches than energy.
Sutherland’s portrayal of a once charming and erudite man sinking into the swampland of senility is heartbreaking. Mirren flutters between a woman yearning for the past and worn down by bearing the terrible burden of the present.
“The Leisure Seeker” premiered in September 2017 at the Venice Film Festival and was one of the featured films at the AFI FEST. The movie opens on 19 January 2018.