There have been great movies about Alzheimer's. The Leisure Seeker isn't one

by Peter Calder / 22 June, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - The Leisure Seeker movie

Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren hit the road in creaky comedy The Leisure Seeker.

Old folks on the road: what would go wrong? Well, not enough to make a good comedy, and too little too late to make the kind of meaningful impact this movie strives for.

Donald Sutherland, 82, and Helen Mirren, 72, play Bostonians John and Ella Spencer, who, to the horror of their anxious adult kids, hit the road in their 1975 Winnebago motorhome. Their destination – well, hers really; we gather early on that he is in the intermittent but firm grip of Alzheimer’s disease – is one of Ernest Hemingway’s former homes, a museum in Key West.

It’s a pilgrimage of sorts; John has spent his life as an English teacher with a special interest in Hemingway (his learned lectures to waitresses make a running gag with a good payoff).

The film wants to be a comic road movie, but the comedy is creaky at best and the storyline is a string of ideas that go nowhere. The couple get pulled over by a cop and nothing happens; on one of their nightly campsite slide shows of family snaps, designed to jog John’s memory, they are joined by a bunch of young people and nothing happens; in occasional phone calls home, we see the kids (Christian McKay and Janel Moloney), and often enough for them to be irritating but not long enough for them to develop any discernible character. Most obscurely, several moments depict the pro-Trump frenzy in the 2016 election campaign, though to what end those scenes are included is never clear. The fact that the movie is an Italian, not American, production may have something to do with it.

The ending is signalled early, if enigmatically, and it doesn’t give much away to say that it speaks, at least glancingly, to the present debate about assisted dying. But despite the best efforts of two screen titans, it seeks to draw on emotional capital it has never banked: the final 10 minutes might have been heart-wrenching, but the mix of formulaic seriousness and ramshackle comedy just never adds up to much. There have been great films about Alzheimer’s (Still Alice; Away from Her). This is not another one.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★1/2

This article was first published in the June 23, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

How Whangārei became New Zealand's home of jugger
99256 2018-12-12 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

How Whangārei became New Zealand's home of jugger

by Michael Botur

On every second Sabbath, grown men and women armed with foam chase a dog skull around Whangārei’s Kensington Park.

Read more
New Zealand's silent Pasifika mental health crisis
100357 2018-12-11 17:18:21Z Health

New Zealand's silent Pasifika mental health crisis…

by Indira Stewart

What do you do if your culture treats mental illness like a curse? Bury it deep.

Read more
The smart speaker with a screen: How does the Amazon Echo Show stack up?
100317 2018-12-11 15:10:01Z Tech

The smart speaker with a screen: How does the Amaz…

by Peter Griffin

A review of the Amazon Echo Show smart speaker.

Read more
Domestic violence: 'There's a huge amount of work that needs to be done' – PM
100265 2018-12-11 10:30:17Z Social issues

Domestic violence: 'There's a huge amount of work …

by RNZ

Grace Millane's death is a reminder of the work that needs to be done to reduce violence directed at women in this country, says the PM.

Read more
Finally, a trio of chunky referendum issues to spice up the next election
99872 2018-12-11 00:00:00Z Politics

Finally, a trio of chunky referendum issues to spi…

by Bevan Rapson

The possibility of Kiwis voting on three contentious issues – euthanasia, cannabis and an MMP shakeup – is like crowdsourcing political decisions.

Read more
The bullying allegations show that Parliament needs transparency
100228 2018-12-11 00:00:00Z Politics

The bullying allegations show that Parliament need…

by Bill Ralston

As a review stalks bullies in the corridors of power, Bill Ralston writes that abuse thrives in the darkness.

Read more
Mortal Engines is like Star Wars on Middle-earth but lacks memorable characters
100219 2018-12-11 00:00:00Z Movies

Mortal Engines is like Star Wars on Middle-earth b…

by Russell Baillie

In a world where cities are humungous all-terrain vehicles, Peter Jackson’s protégé gets bogged down.

Read more
How art therapy is helping stroke victims speak a new language
99448 2018-12-11 00:00:00Z Health

How art therapy is helping stroke victims speak a …

by Donna Chisholm

re-stART, an Auckland art therapy programme, is thought to be the first in the world targeting stroke survivors.

Read more