Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren are household names with an astounding 400 television and film acting credits between them. Before their new film, “The Leisure Seeker,” they have appeared onscreen together only once in 1990’s “Bethune: The Making of a Hero.” Here they prove the chemistry that worked when the first Bush was president is still intact.
Their latest pairing sees them play old married couple former English professor John and Southern belle Ella Spencer who still playfully call one another, “My love.”
Their relationship is healthy but they are not. He has Alzheimer’s and she has cancer. As memories fade and the reliance on pills increases they embark on one last road trip, from Massachusetts to the heart of Old Town Key West and the Hemingway Home & Museum. Hitting the road in their 1975 Winnebago, dubbed the Leisure Seeker, they begin their final adventure. “They are just doing the thing they have done their entire lives,” says daughter Jane (Janel Moloney). “Staying together.”
Based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Michael Zadoorian “The Leisure Seeker” is a so-so movie elevated by two endearing performances. Mirren emphasizes Ella’s warmth and strength, how she uses idle chatter to mask the uncertainty and frustration that churns inside her. Sutherland, as a man aware enough to know he wants to go out like Hemmingway when the time comes but getting foggier everyday, sensitively finds a balance between the glimpses of John’s former personality and his new diminished state. Both sparkle, and hand in engaging performances.
They glide through the spotty material finding humanity and the touching moments tucked away in this overly sentimental travelogue.
The moments that work really work. They handle the comedic passages expertly and real heft to exchanges like this:
“Who are you? My John is a young teacher. He’s charming. Very handsome. Educated,” she says to him. “I want him back. You stole him from me and I want you to give him back.”
“If I could I would,” he says. “Whatever is stolen from you is stolen from me too,” he replies.
It is just a shame the rest of the film doesn’t work on that level.