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‘The Leisure Seeker’ review: Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland movie a heartwarming heartbreaker

Click to play video '‘The Leisure Seeker’ trailer' ‘The Leisure Seeker’ trailer
WATCH: 'The Leisure Seeker' trailer

In the vein of other movies focusing on later-life dementia, like Away From Her and Still Alice, The Leisure Seeker is the story of an elderly couple coming face-to-face with their own mortality.

The only difference is Leisure Seeker tells the story in a slightly different way, with comedy rolling right from the start. Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland are Ella and John Spencer, a married duo taking one last ride across the U.S. in their beloved RV, the Leisure Seeker, before John succumbs to his dementia. We eventually find out that Ella isn’t healthy, either, so really the pair is saying goodbye to the life they knew together.

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They take the Leisure Seeker from Boston, hoping to achieve John’s lifelong wish of visiting Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, Fla.

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That sounds sad.

Yes, the movie has a layer of sadness throughout, as should be expected considering the subject matter (unless you’re made of stone). But Sutherland and Mirren appear to be having a ball here. The ludicrousness of the RV, the idea of an older couple abandoning their lives and setting off for what’s assumed to be their last trip, and the numerous events that befall them on their journey all combine into this bizarre melange that can’t help but make you smile.

What’s funny about the movie?

Mirren and Sutherland are wonderful, seasoned actors, and they manage to bring a lightness and a resigned feeling to the film. It’s not a slow march to death, but rather a journey through their lives, and while they manoeuvre south through the U.S., nearly every encounter they have with another person is tinged with humour. The pair poke and prod at each other (what married couple doesn’t?) throughout, bringing up inside jokes and old memories.

Each night, Ella puts on a slideshow for John, testing his memory and reminding him as much as she can of the life they’ve shared. Sometimes even those scenes can be funny … though you’re most likely going to bury your face in tissues before the tear-jerking final scenes.

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Does it minimize the seriousness of dementia?

The movie is based on the book by Michael Zadoorian (which, full disclosure, I haven’t read), and many people who’ve read it say this adaptation doesn’t do the novel justice.

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That said, the film is end-to-end sentimentality, and it does a great job of bringing us into the pair’s 50-year-long relationship. Ella dotes on John, who does his best to remember locales, memories and the moments (and children!) they’ve shared. John’s dementia looms large and essentially runs their journey, making the decisions of where and when to stop. Certain events also wouldn’t take place without his dementia, like when he wanders off during a Republican campaign event in a small town. It is never minimized, though the movie is never left to wallow in the sadness for too long.

So what’s the bottom line?

Sure to be a hit with Boomers, The Leisure Seeker is at once heartwarming and heartbreaking. Knowing the end is coming for Ella and John is overwhelmingly sad, but at the same time the viewer can find happiness knowing these two lived a long, full life together, and are saying goodbye to each other on their own terms. Don’t forget to bring the tissues.

‘The Leisure Seeker’ opens in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal on March 16. It opens in Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Waterloo on March 23, and Halifax, Winnipeg and Victoria on March 30.

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