The Leisure Seeker
In Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea we are told that a man can be destroyed but not defeated. As John (Donald Sutherland) and Ella (Helen Mirren) journey to Florida on a pilgrimage to the author’s house, the audience is presented with two characters with withering faculties pondering the truth of the American literary icon’s neat aphorism. Heading out on their renegade road trip down memory lane – the wishes of their children and doctors be damned – they attempt to recapture a romance that still glows on screen.
Sutherland and Mirren are finely matched: they harmonise beautifully through wet mattresses and the assorted trials and tribulations of old age, warts and all. They give the subtle and deft performances of seasoned actors with a great deal of tenderness and affection. Sutherland, in particular, is charming – even lyrical – in depicting a character with Alzheimer’s, and he is as compelling in his second childhood as in his moments of lucidity. Together, the couple glide between misery and humour well, but still succeed in letting the film hang heavy with a quiet sadness.
The movie’s nostalgic tone is enhanced by a soundtrack that plays on the disconnect between the characters as we see them and as they are to themselves. They face age and illness, yes, but they are the sums of their layered experiences and a kernel of their youth is always there, with glimmers of a third act sexuality.
There may not be a great deal of innovation at work here, but there are many moments of real poignance in this circuitous journey. There is a sense of destination for the narrative throughout, but The Leisure Seeker ultimately doesn’t gather the speed it perhaps should, and takes a few too many narrative detours – though still plays on the heartstrings. It promises tears, laughs and gasps but, most of all, a stark and empathic look at dignity and love late in life.
The Leisure Seeker is released nationwide on 20th April 2018.
Watch the trailer for The Leisure Seeker here: