Film Review: The Leisure Seeker (2018)
I don't have much sympathy left for old, white people. Plain and simple. And certainly Paolo Virzi's The Leisure Seeker is no exception, but what this movie did do for me was offer a charming and somber reflection on life as a dying old person. Ella and John Spencer (Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, respectively) come together as a dying elderly couple who take one last trek together in their vintage family RV from Boston to Hemingway’s home in the Florida Keys. Ella has recently stopped treatment for her cancer, and John has Alzheimer's - and both experience the emotional and physical detriment of their ailments. John's sporadic memory, changing personality, and increasing dependence takes a toll on Ella, who must not only take care of him but also take care of her own bouts of cancerous pain and vomiting.
The film opens with a Donald Trump pickup truck campaigning through a wealthy suburban neighborhood, so despite having generally good expectations for this film, I immediately became skeptical. Is this gonna be another Lady Bird about boring white people? I mean, yeah. A man drives up to a house and finds his elderly parents missing, along with their titular RV. The rest of the film follows Mirren and Sutherland, who thoroughly carry the entire film, in a weird combination of funny buddy road trip and Nicholas Sparks*. By day, the couple travels with lighthearted explorations and interactions through the East Coast - they run into Trump rallies and Hillary conventions, hillbilly campmates and hillbilly muggers, teenage waiters and Hemingway-loving waiters. The sociopolitical tension of the country is mere background noise to these people who are nearing death. Occasionally, there are more charming moments, like when Ella tries to jog John’s memory by projecting old family photos onto a tarp at their campsite or when they spontaneously decide to stay at a $300/night luxury suite hotel just for kicks. But by night, their sleepless travels are punctuated with moments of emotional strife - as John’s turbulent memory is as much a painful struggle to Ella as downing her pills.
I think perhaps what was more impactful than the actual illnesses present in these characters was actually the portrayal of daily life as elderly people. John will sometimes wet the bed, which Ella will have to clean up, with total nonchalance. Ella’s short white hair is concealed with a wig everyday. Both are chatty and nostalgic over-sharers who don’t know when conversations are over, just like many other old people in my life. Seeing those characteristics on the big screen was slightly more interesting to me, as someone whose white people sympathy has diminished.
For the most part, The Leisure Seeker is fairly predictable and repetitive, going through the motions of fun days and sad nights, along with badly-acted calls from their kids fretting about their whereabouts. The film ends on a forlorn note and is quite heartbreaking, despite its questionable legality. I imagine all those young-in-love characters in Nicholas Sparks* novels will eventually grow up to be this kind of couple with this kind of story.
* For the record, I do love a good Nicholas Sparks movie. A Walk to Remember is my shit.