The Leisure Seeker




Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren star in a road movie with dementia that doesn't really convince.


Leisure Seeker, The

Driving Dame Helen: Donald Sutherland and Helen 'Tootsie' Mirren   


The title refers not to an ageing hedonist but to an optimistically nicknamed Winnebago. Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland are on a road trip from Massachusetts to Florida to visit the home of Ernest Hemingway, as one does. He’s almost gaga and drives on a sort of mental autopilot and she’s not entirely herself either, popping large blue pills whenever she remembers.


A Franco-Italian co-production, the film starts promisingly with the voice of Donald Trump declaring that “America is back!” However, any political satire is swiftly ignored as the film purrs along in neutral somewhere between National Lampoon’s Vacation and Driving Dame Helen. Dame Helen herself adopts a broad Southern accent, which is disorientating, while her glasses and wig recall Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. Donald Sutherland, who’s yet to receive a single Oscar nomination in an illustrious career spanning half a century, is given little opportunity to shine and it’s hard to take either of them seriously. There are some mildly amusing moments, but the scenes of growing old disgracefully are interspersed with snatches of pathos that fail to hit home. There’s a running joke of Sutherland’s senile English professor boring sundry waitresses with impromptu lectures on Hemingway, a subject he seems more familiar with than the lives of his own children. Initially, the gag was funny.


The film is aimed squarely at the grey pound, but no amount of acting can prop up what is often a repetitive and implausible journey of self-discovery. Films about dementia are cropping up all over the place – Michael Haneke’s Amour being the chilling pièce de résistance – and a bit of humour on the subject was welcome. There’s no denying the new film’s sincerity or good intentions, but its folksy mien and stately direction (courtesy of the Italian filmmaker Paolo Virzì) does it – and its target audience – no favours.




Cast: Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, Christian McKay, Janel Moloney, Dana Ivey, Dick Gregory, Gabriella Cila, Kirsty Mitchell.


Dir Paolo Virzì, Pro Fabrizio Donvito, Marco Cohen and Benedetto Habib, Screenplay Paolo Virzì, Francesca Archibugi, Francesco Piccolo and Stephen Amidon, from the novel by Michael Zadoorian, Ph Luca Bigazzi, Pro Des Richard A. Wright, Ed Jacopo Quadri, Music Carlo Virzì, Costumes Massimo Cantini Parrini.


Indiana Production Company/Rai Cinema-Universal Pictures.

112 mins. Italy/France. 2017. Rel: 20 April 2018. Cert. 15.