This Winnebago death trip is just a dead end.
“I wear diapers, white boy!” Uttered by a wheelchair-bound Dick Gregory, such embarrassing dialogue gives the comedian activist just a fraction of the indignities heaped upon the veteran actors who lead The Leisure Seeker to its petroleum grave.
Adapted from a novel by Michael Zadoorian, the movie follows retired English professor John Spencer (Donald Sutherland) and his wife, Ella (Helen Mirren), as they climb into their vintage Winnebago they call “The Leisure Seeker” and leave Massachusetts for one last road trip. Fans of Sutherland and Mirren, who between them have worked with such legendary directors as Robert Altman and Peter Greenaway, may hope for some late-career fireworks. Sadly, the film is further proof that, beyond putting them in adult diapers, Hollywood has no idea what to do with its elders.
Ham-handed and patronizing, The Leisure Seeker quickly becomes excruciating. We meet the senior Spencers as they begin their journey, driving past a Trump campaign rally (which becomes a recurring, clumsy motif throughout the film) while their grown children, realizing their parents have run away, are freaking out back home. Before five minutes have passed, the viewer is startled by Mirren’s Southern accent (her character hails from South Carolina) and Sutherland’s hapless delivery of fart jokes. Billed as an adventure-comedy, the movie immediately shows its true colors as a domestic horror show.
The Spencer siblings have reason to fear the worst, much like moviegoers should be concerned by the movie’s pushed-back release date and cold opening. John has become increasingly forgetful, prone to wake up thinking he’s years and even decades younger; Ella frequently wakes up in pain for reasons that the script (credited to four writers whose names shall be withheld to protect the guilty) chooses to keep secret. With John behind the wheel, the pair set off to Key West where they plan to visit the Hemingway house, which he’s always wanted to see. Of course, along the way they run into obstacles, the worst being that John often forgets where they are and even who his wife is.
John’s elder incontinence is perhaps treated with a modicum of sensitivity, but Sutherland can’t make much out of a man drawn as little more than a vessel for uncontrollable bodily fluids and a deteriorating mind. Once she settles into her accent, Mirren comes off slightly better, pulling effective drama out of her late-career lot when she wakes up in a trailer camp one morning to find that her senescent husband has wandered off on his own.
Anybody out there reading this want to write a movie about the elderly? Chances are, the readership of this site can produce a significant number of volunteers who could shape these characters with more respect and dignity. The market is such that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel franchise is one of the better showcases for aging actors. With years of wisdom and patient suffering, those nearing the end of their lives can teach us plenty about how to live ours. But this Winnebago death trip is just a dead end.