The Leisure Seeker is tonally all over the place, and none of those places work, mostly because, as executed, they’re not particularly believable.
Conceptually, the movie’s tonal fluctuations make sense; dementia unmoors sufferers from conventional reality, thus the line between tragedy and comedy becomes a blur of displaced consciousness. The nature of their everyday existence changes based on the faulty workings of their memory, in that what they remember radically alters their mood. As such, The Leisure Seeker can be seen as striving to capture these perpetual oscillations, but too little of it is grounded in resonant explorations of the ideas inspired by these rovings.
Much like the road trip genre it attempts to conform to while meaningfully subverting (director Paolo Virzì’s last two movies hail from the genre, yet this pales in comparison to Like Crazy), the entire trip fails if its artistic stops stall on their way to building a coherent whole. It flirts with compelling strands, but they never tie together into a satisfying present (a potential cause of this scatterbrained superficiality: it took four screenwriters to adapt one measly novel!).
One of these underdeveloped strings can’t help but remind of Andrew Haigh’s vastly superior 45 Years, which probed its insights through characters that actually felt like living and breathing people (greatly aided by Charlotte Rampling’s Oscar-nominated performance). The Leisure Seeker‘s Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland too often feel like pawns in service of greater points ultimately lost on the audience.
For instance, what was up with using the last Presidential election as a backdrop? Does it imply that geriatric patients no longer care about politics…which is patently absurd given the importance of healthcare and the slashing of social benefits for the old? Or was it an indictment of how those caught up in political fervor often, in the heat of their fever, forget about the former-hippy generations (who else owns a Winnebago?) that fought for them but are about to be left behind, symbolized in the final shot that positions cemeteries on the disregarded-peripheries of common society? These are intriguing ideas that I just explored to a further extent than the actual movie.
On another and final note, I’ll leave you with this question that I’ve been wrestling with in recent years: Does Helen Mirren now have questionable taste in material, or is her late-career oeuvre a sad reflection of the roles written for women of a certain age?