In the old days when everyone was young, studios like MGM made films filled with cutie-pie girls who sang and danced and fell blissfully in love and presumably lived happily ever after.
But now that 13% of the American population is 65 and older, an array of independent filmmakers are making films that deal with the daily lives, the changes, and the challenges that many older people find themselves having to cope with.
Such a film is “The Leisure Seeker,” which follows the “final vacation” of a loving, long-married couple as they meander in their dilapidated Winnebago camper, which they call The Leisure Seeker, from their home in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida.
This beautifully paired couple are played by Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, and their performances are so compelling and so exquisitely real that you soon lose track of the fact that they are not actually married in real life.
Mirren plays Ella, a former “Southern belle” (with a perfect and consistent Southern accent, by the way) who is funny and charming and outgoing and who enters into long personal monologues with everyone she meets. She is also feisty and bossy and impatient as she deals with a husband who is rapidly disappearing into dementia.
Sutherland, who plays her husband, turns in the performance of his life as John Spencer, a former high-school English teacher with an abiding admiration for Hemingway, Joyce, and Melville, whose words he recites lovingly in moments when he is lucid.
Sutherland, who often can’t remember the names of his children, wears his dementia with an open face that registers confusion, bewilderment, and frustration. But periodically when he “comes back to me,” as she puts it, his face glows with a warm and loving smile and eyes that melt as he looks at her, and his voice softly speaks of happy moments that he remembers.
(People magazine, when it puts together its annual issue on “The Sexiest Man Alive,” should definitely consider this gorgeous older man for the cover.)
She, as the official keeper of their memories, has brought along a projector and slides which she shows him at night to help him try to remember the people and the events of their life together. It is dismaying to her that his dementia is separating them for the first time. And although she often winces in pain and takes numerous pills, he apparently has not asked, but accepts the fact that she has a “condition.”
Their adventures are amusing, exciting, and varied, however, as they travel along America’s eastern coast and take advantage of every opportunity. For instance, when they encounter a march in support of Donald Trump John breaks away and joins the mob shouting USA! USA! USA! and Ella has to remind him that he has been a Democrat all his life as she peels a Trump button from his lapel.
And when they finally reach Hemingway’s home in Key West she is appalled by the massive crowd of tourists, while he stumbles into a wedding party on the patio and joins the dancing with obvious joy.
Italian director Paolo Virzi, who was also one of the four writers credited with the screenplay of the book by Michael Zadoorian, has been quoted as saying “We were aiming for a movie as simple and compact as a poem or a song: I tried to imagine this film as a sweet and sad ballad, a hymn to individual freedom; something unreasonable and crazy, but at the same time full of life, energy and happiness.”
Director Virzi has succeeded spectacularly, putting together a film as beautiful and moving as any iconic film that has been historically considered “the very best of the best.”
“The Leisure Seeker” will open in New York and Los Angeles on March 9. Look for it in your local theater and then in the lineup for next year’s Academy Awards.