The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Leisure Seeker

The Leisure Seeker is one of those movies where somebody with a serious illness goes on the proverbial One Last Road Trip. The hazard with stories like this is that they have to escalate the stakes the longer things go on, which can lead to painful contrivances. In this case, an Alzheimer's-ridden man forgets he's a lifelong Democrat and joins a Trump rally, then later storms a nursing home with a shotgun to confront the man his wife dated fifty years prior. This is not a picture that treats its subject matter well.

Helen Mirren plays Ella Spencer. Her husband John (Donald Sutherland) is a former academic now experiencing serious signs of dementia. They hop into their vintage RV and drive from Boston to Key West, Florida because – and I'm sure you'll see this coming – she's trying to run from the problem. Back home, their worried adult children, Will (Christian McKay) and Jane (Janel Moloney), frantically try to figure out where they are. Of course, the journey is fraught with all kinds of adventures that start off comedic, then became substantially more dramatic. John's memory issues grow worse, as does the pain Ella pops opiods for.

You can tell pretty early on where The Leisure Seeker is going to go. The screenplay sets everything up so precisely that it's obvious what the payoff will be. For instance, when Ella is shown checking to make sure a hidden gun in still in the cabinet of the RV, you just know a situation will occur where she'll be forced to pull it out. The whole movie is like that, virtually screaming, Pay attention to this, because it's going to be important later! And because it does so, the viewer is perpetually several steps ahead of the story.

Such an approach wouldn't necessarily be catastrophic, except that The Leisure Seeker is so shamelessly manipulative. Alzheimer's is a serious thing, but the first half of the movie plays it for “wacky” laughs. We're supposed to be amused by the things John says and does because his memory is failing. That's an uncomfortable note to hit. Once it does start treating the subject with the weight it deserves, the movie somehow gets even worse, having the character do things – like storm the nursing home or unknowingly act out a secret from the past – that feel thoroughly contrived. When a film doesn't know how to deal with a tough subject honestly, it does so with dishonesty instead. The Leisure Seeker is one of the most dishonest pictures of its type ever made.

Mirren and Sutherland do the best they can with the weak material. Both are fully committed, which ends up being a little sad, because no one wants to see two great actors forced to participate in poorly-written scenes that make them look ridiculous. Sutherland, in particular, is saddled with bad moments. John, as written, is a device more than a person. His every word and action is designed to allow The Leisure Seeker to arrive at its predictably maudlin – and wholly unearned – conclusion.

Director Paolo Virza, adapting Michael Zadoorian's novel, probably wanted to say something about the importance of clinging to good memories while they last, and the pain of watching a lifetime of them slowly fade away from your partner's mind. With its cornball screenplay and on-the-nose dialogue, The Leisure Seeker actually sends the appalling message that watching someone struggle with Alzheimer's is kind of funny, until it's suddenly not.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Leisure Seeker is rated R for some sexual material. The running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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