‘The Leisure Seeker’ disappoints with weak script, plot holes
In a long career stretching all the way back to 1962, Donald Sutherland has appeared in such films as “Klute,” “M*A*S*H,” “Backdraft,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Animal House,” “Don’t Look Now,” “JFK,” “Ordinary People” and of course the recent “Hunger Games” series. Though the distinguished actor got an honorary Lifetime Achievement Award last year, he does not — amazingly — have a single Oscar nom for even one of his 188 performances.
I’m sorry to say that “The Leisure Seeker” is not going to remedy that oversight.
It’s a tepid 2017 film that had limited theatrical release and never played anywhere near Williamsport; in it, Sutherland and Helen Mirren play an aging couple named John and Ella Spencer.
On the very day Ella is to enter the hospital for some serious but unspecified medical work, the two decide instead to embark on a road-trip in their 43-year-old Winnebago. They’re headed from Massachusetts to Key West, where they hope to visit the famous home of John’s literary hero, Ernest Hemingway — even though John, who does most of the driving, suffers from rapidly advancing dementia and sometimes can’t even remember his own kids’ names.
It’s a fairly cool idea with an intriguing cast, but the script is weak, with uninspired dialog, several plot holes and a problematic ending.
Just about the only source of conflict here is that you never can tell what the forgetful John might do next. That, along with the two stars’ charisma and a pair of minor plot twists, is enough to sustain our interest over the rough patches; and for every scene that falls flat, there’s another that works well — notably the motorcycle ride, the encounter with two Camaro-riding rednecks and the phone call when John tells his daughter how proud he is of her.
Speaking of which, “The West Wing’s” Janel Moloney plays that concerned progeny, and she comes off about the best of all the performers here. Much of the other work feels affected, artificial — which may have something to do with fledgling director Paolo Virzi, who is here helming his first English-language film.
I will say that Dick Gregory is excellent in a small role, and of course Mirren and Sutherland are as watchable as ever — though the sappy, shallow writing doesn’t do them any favors.
As for that ending: I can’t say much; but the weighty moral issues here are blithely and hurriedly swept aside in what amounts to no denouement whatsoever.
For fans of these performers, or of road films in general — or Winnebagos — this is an okay way to spend an evening, though it could have been better.
At the very least, it does make you want to read Hemingway again. And that’s not a bad thing.