The Leisure Seeker

(Italy / France 2018)

Paolo Virzì’s last film, Like Crazy (, won me over with its quirky lead characters, their wacky antics, and the surprisingly moving turn the story takes. His follow up, The Leisure Seeker, which also happens to be his first English language feature film, employs a similar template — Massachusetts golden girl Ella Spencer (Helen Mirren) has arranged a trip with her husband, John (Donald Sutherland), a retired literature professor, to Key West. The purpose of the trip is to see the Ernest Hemingway House, something John always wanted to do but never got around to it. They board their trusty old Winnebago from the Seventies — they named it “The Leisure Seeker” — and slip away without telling anyone.

While reigniting passions and having revelations over the course of their excursion, what really prompted the trip becomes apparent: John is suffering a bad case of Alzheimer’s that gets worse by the day. Ella is dealing with the effects of her own condition as well. Naturally, their middle aged kids (Christian McKay and Janel Moloney) freak when they find out what they’re up to.

Based on Michael Zadoorian’s novel of the same name, the topic here is a worthy one: deciding when to call it a wrap. Mirren and Sutherland give fine performances with strong chemistry and realistic intimacy, and the best moments are just as tender as the ones in Like Crazy. Still, The Leisure Seeker somehow comes off as diluted, perhaps aiming too hard for a wide audience. It shows in the screenplay, which has a lot of weak spots and relies on sentimentality too heavily for its own good.

The situations Ella and John get into might be sweet, but they don’t move beyond silly hijinks. They’re pretty easy, actually. Hilarity ensues, for example, when a cop (Robert Walker Branchaud) pulls John over for swerving, when a roadside punk (Sean Michael Weber) tries to rob the couple while they wait stranded for a tow, and later when John wanders into a Donald Trump rally. The Leisure Seeker isn’t quite the compelling film it had the potential to be.

With Dana Ivey, Dick Gregory, Leander Suleiman, Ahmed Lucan, Gabriella Cila, David Marshall Silverman, Lucy Catherine Haskill, Joshua Hoover, Kirsty Mitchell, Mylie Stone, Joshua Mikel, Rayan Clay Gwaltney, Matt Mercurio, Marc Fajardo, Wayne Hall, Denitra Isler, Carl Bradfield, Roger Lee Bright, Chelle Ramos, Joe Hardy Jr., Jerald Jay Savage, Nicholas Barrera, Danielle Deadwyler, Robert Pralgo, Lilia Pino Blouin, Rusty Hodgdon, Ariel Kaplan, Geoffrey D. Williams, Carlos Guerrero, Karen Valero

Production: Indiana Production Company, BAC Films, Rai Cinema, Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo (MiBACT), Regione Lazio

Distribution: 01 Distribution (Italy), BAC Films (France), Sony Pictures Classics (USA), Concorde Filmverleih (Germany), Filmcoopi Zürich (Switzerland), Filmladen (Austria), Imagine Filmdistributie Nederland (Netherlands), Imagine (Belgium), Norsk Filmdistribusjon (Norway), StraDa Films – Seven Films (Greece), United International Pictures (UIP) (Poland), GAGA (Japan), Shaw Organisation (Singapore)

112 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) C-

Chicago International Film Festival


Ordinary People

(USA 1980)

Ordinary People is exactly the kind of film I love: moody and dark with dysfunctional, even unlikeable characters and an unresolved, downright unhappy ending. Throw in a Chicago North Shore setting, two major sitcom stars, and Robert Redford as director and I’m all over it.

The plot is pretty simple: the Jarrett family is dealing with the death of Buck (Scott Doebler), the older of two teenaged boys. Younger brother Conrad (Timothy Hutton), who lived in Buck’s shadow and survived him in a boating accident, has just returned from a stint at a mental hospital. He can’t quite get back into the normal swing of things. His parents, Calvin (Donald Sutherland) and Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), are also having a tough time. Conrad sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch)—whose office is somewhere on Sheridan Road—and the two work on getting him through his survivor’s guilt.

Unlike the plot, the family dynamic is complicated. Difficult. Calvin reaches out to his son and his wife, but he’s painfully awkward. His unsuccessful attempts to find common ground where they can all meet made me wince at times. Beth is in complete denial; absorbed by social events and golfing, she doesn’t seem to notice Conrad. She is incapable of understanding him or helping him heal. It’s causing the family unit to unravel. Maybe it was never strong to begin with.

Ordinary People is a quiet film that sneaks up you—you don’t see how intense it is until the credits roll. It’s chilling and haunting, something that stays with you. The writing is excellent, and the cast couldn’t be better. The drama here is not so much in what happens, but in how the characters face each other. Hutton won an Oscar for his performance (, and he evokes a boatload of sympathy. However, he succeeds because of his mother: unlike her television persona, Tyler Moore is stone cold. We get a hint that her facade cracks soon after the final scene, but it’s left to our imagination. She does an amazingly powerful job here.

124 minutes
Rated R

(Home via iTunes) A-