Mirren, Sutherland fuel sputtering AARP road movie 'Leisure Seeker'

  • Ella (Helen Mirren) comforts her husband John (Donald Sutherland) after a bout with dementia in the meandering AARP road movie "The Leisure Seeker."

    Ella (Helen Mirren) comforts her husband John (Donald Sutherland) after a bout with dementia in the meandering AARP road movie "The Leisure Seeker." Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics


"The Leisure Seeker" - ★ ★

Stars Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland work well together in "The Leisure Seeker," but their talents fail to pump up the dramatic octane necessary to fuel this meandering, sputtering AARP road movie.

In Italian director Paolo Virzi's U.S. debut, aging Ella (Mirren) decides she should take her long-retired English teacher hubby John (Sutherland) down to Key West to see Ernest Hemingway's house, apparently a dream of his.

So, without telling anyone, they fire up the old RV, christened "The Leisure Seeker," and hit the road from their Massachusetts home, causing their prissy son Will (Christian McKay) to hit the ceiling, and their daughter Jane (Janel Moloney) to worry.

John suffers from dementia. Ella wears a wig to hide the effects of dealing with cancer.

Their journey takes them through various states -- not just American ones, but emotional ones -- as they visit local restaurants and camp sites where their family slides (projected on to a sheet) become an unexpected hit for other, apparently entertainment-starved campers.

We might expect "The Leisure Seeker" to have something important to say, given its promising beginning.

We see an enthusiastic Trump-for-president rally underway in the couple's hometown, accompanied by Carole King's lyrics to "It's Too Late."

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Could this be a political statement about America's aging population? Hardly.

Virzi's film, adapted from the novel by Michael Zadoorian, devolves into banal, almost-comic, nearly poignant vignettes as the couple uncovers past secrets while coping with increasingly failing health issues.

Without histrionics, Sutherland imbues John with a realistic, addled awareness. Mirren performs the heavier dramatic lifting, only once slipping slightly into her native British accent while effecting one from South Carolina.

"The Leisure Seeker" never comes close to the empathy and earned sentiment of the recent dramas "Away From Her" and "Still Alice." (Perhaps the less said about the late Dick Gregory's wasted cameo the better.)

It occurred to me early on that "The Leisure Seeker" could effortlessly be adapted into a two-person, single-set stage play. But given the relatively inert material here, who'd want to do that?


• • •

Starring: Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay, Kirsty Mitchell

Directed by: Paolo Virzi

Other: A Sony Pictures Classics release. Rated R for language, sexual situations. At Chicago's River East and Century Centre, plus the Evanston Century 18. 112 minutes

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