The beginning gives a clear idea of what the film will be like: a road, a pick-up and a nice American Seventies song. A classic incipit for a typical American genre. Something that doesn’t fit with the main idea Italian cinema-lovers have of Paolo Virzì, Italian director who has made many great Italian films.
The story consists in a journey on Route 1 – also the number of Via Aurelia in Italy – of a old married couple, Ella (Helen Mirren) and John (Donald Sutherland), who have many problems and illnesses but they still love each other very much. As soon as they’re on the road, we understand what is John’s illness: Alzheimer. He forgets many things and sometimes doesn’t even recognize Ella. In the meantime, we understand that even Ella is sick, but not of what, until she ends up in the hospital.
While their son and daughter are worried for their parents’ conditions and well-being, Ella and John continue their journey to Keys West, where Hemingway – John’s great passion- lived. The real reason, however, isn’t to go on a trip for a nice, happy vacation, but it’s a journey through their past lives, remembering there happiest moments and living their last best moments. The end of the film is not what everyone will expect, beginning as a happy and crazy film on love and old people. In the end, one finds out what getting old means; what it means to be sick, dying and forgetful.
The Leisure Seeker is a story in pure American style, but with a dramatic and sad feeling that is in contrast with the music, always energetic and happy. Even though we can’t say it has a happy ending, one doesn’t feel sad, but almost relieved: this old couple had the desire to live their last days together and to end their lives when and how they wanted. It’s a kind of freedom of choice against the rules and restrictions of cancer, Alzheimer and other people’s wills. Wonderfully heart-warming and touching, this is a great first American film for Virzì.