Paolo Virzi’s The Leasure Seeker is a solemn, touching and hilarious tale of love and life. Turning in superb performances from his two lead actors, Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, Virzi's film that succeeds at engaging the viewer from start to finish while also provoking several questions and big ideas about love, ageing and what’s between.
The film is set around an old couple (Ella – Helen Mirren and John – Donald Sutherland) who, tired of a stale life full of medications and pity – decide to take their RV and go on a trip. The destination is known and yet that’s not the point. They just want to be together. Things aren’t as easy for Ella, as John suffers from short memory loss and repeatedly wakes up at night or has memory loss bursts during the day wondering who he is. At times, he is someone floating on the waves of the unknown, and in other times, his memory is quite sharp and can capture his old days as a university professor who holds his students dearly.
Sutherland is quite a revelation in this role. As John, he plays several characters into one. He is lost, determined, happy, guilty, confused, sad and joyful. In all ranges of the character, the actor brilliantly captures what it’s like to wake up one day feeling strange in your own skin. An Oscar-worthy turn by a veteran whose time should come for recognition. As Ella, Mirren captures much more than a loving wife – she is someone who stood up by the man she loves and learns how to love him unconditionally no matter how hard the memory loss fits are or what secrets she later discovers after almost 50 years of marriage.
Virzi is able to craft a story that is both funny and extremely moving. He shows the couple at their most vulnerable and most joyful – but it’s the small, silent moments in between that give the film its beating heart. Cinematography is quite notable in the film, as the couple embark on a long journey to rediscover life outside closed doors and away from elderly homes and hospital dorms.
Ella and John call their RV ‘The Leisure Seeker’ – and it’s not a coincidental name. As they go on this journey to enjoy what’s left of life, they’re seeking freedom, happiness and joy. But they’ve always had one another, no matter how hard the road was and no matter how bleak the future looks like.
Verdict: A marvelous film about ageing and love, superbly told by Virzi and impeccably played by Mirren and Sutherland. A total delight.