By Tracy Wang
Adapted from a book of the same name by Michael Zadoorian, ‘The Leisure Seeker’ stars critically-acclaimed Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren, and brings the audiences joy and heartbreak through the story of a senior couple going on a journey in their old trailer called ‘The Leisure Seeker’.
Having been married for many years, John Spencer (Donald Sutherland), a professor who is passionate about Ernest Hemingway, and Ella Spencer (Helen Mirren), who loves to share stories with anyone she meets, decide to go on a journey to one of Hemingway’s residences, Key West, and enjoy their one last trip together.
Without telling their adult children, they drive their ‘Leisure Seeker’ out one morning. Once on the road, they move from one trailer park to the next, and strike up conversations about their family and Hemingway whenever they can. Soon, it is learnt that John suffers from memory loss that is similar to the symptoms of an Alzheimer’s disease, and Helen is fatally-ill. Though she is often frustrated by the memory loss of her husband, she nevertheless stands by him, and takes very good care of him.
Many comedic moments arise because of her husband’s memory loss, and we learn about her husband’s affair with their long time friend and neighbor many years ago. Infuriated by the lie and betrayal, Ella dumps John at a random nursing home. However, after some drinking and venting, she goes back, and takes John back to the trailer.
Finally, they reach Hemingway’s Key West residence. Excited by the wedding happening on-site, John mingles with the wedding guest, and dances on the dance floor. However, their journey of a lifetime is brutally interrupted when Ella falls onto the floor in pain, and is rushed to a hospital. How will they continue their journey? Will they be able to continue their journey of the lifetime?
A sentimental subject that is rarely discussed or filmed, the film focuses on a senior couple, who are facing their final years, and asking the question of how they could still enjoy and live their lives to the fullest.
The couple played by Mirren and Sutherland are full of spirit, energy and the will to live. Their refusal to spend the rest of their days in a nursing home or in a hospital enlightens all the audiences, young or old, to embrace life at all age, and to always remain adventurous and curious about life.
What’s even more encouraging than their determinedness in living their lives to the fullest is their undying love for each other. Through betrayal, lies and diseases, they stay together, and their refusal to separate from each other, even in death, touches our hearts.
With beautiful performances from Mirren and Sutherland, and some important messages on living and embracing life, we had the high hope of adding a new favorite one to our film list, but ‘The Leisure Seeker’ fails to enchant us as a movie. Though the trailer promises us the greatest adventure for John and Ella Spencer, the film does not carry a coherent adventure; instead, the events and plot points seem quite fragmented, and they all seem to be feebly connected by the thematic thread.
Their trip in the trailer centers more on their diseases than on what this final journey entails. We see them meeting new people, going to places, encountering some comedic situations (Ella scaring some robbers away with their gun, Ella trying to catch up with John who drove away without her), but their trip seems to be interrupted and disturbed by what they left behind all the time, and loses its appeal all too quickly.
Along with their journey, we get snippets of their two grown children’s lives, but the few times we get to know more about their personal struggles are far from enough for us to develop a connection with them. The result thus becomes a narrative that has much potential that is never really reached.
The ending of the film can be said to be a shock, and it adds a good amount of surprise to the whole film. After experiencing the sudden emotional outbreak near the end, we are left with some more questions regarding life and death. What does embracing one’s life mean? However, even though its fragmented plot drags us through the film in a slower pace than we expected, ‘The Leisure Seeker’ gives us a sneak peek of how a senior couple could live a more exciting life than many of us, and forces us to rethink of how we want to live our lives.