Old friends are the best friends in slow-moving road trip through Iceland
Directed by Aaron Katz & Martha Stephens
Cast: Earl Lynn Nelson, Paul Eenhoorn
Mitch and Colin have been friends for a long time. Years ago they found themselves married to a pair of sisters. Mitch’s wife eventually divorced him. Colin’s wife passed away. The two are now well into retirement age and more or less all on their own, isolated from former spouses and adult offspring by the quickly piling sands of time. In a fit of nostalgic excitement, Mitch reaches out to his old friend and former brother-in-law by proposing a spur-of-the-moment trip to Iceland. Well, not so much “proposing” as simply informing Colin he’s purchased tickets and they’re leaving tomorrow. This happy-go-lucky bullying pretty much lays out the relationship between our two protagonists, forming the centerpiece of the amusing, amiable old guy road trip Land Ho!
This microcosmic indie is a collaboration between Portland filmmaker Aaron Katz (Quiet City, Cold Weather) and Appalachia-based auteur Martha Stephens (Passenger Pigeons, Pilgrim Song). Land Ho! is pretty much the first film from either to show up anywhere other than at film festivals. And you can tell, almost before the credits are done rolling, that Land Ho! is one of those “journey, not the destination” kind of things.
Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) is a loudmouthed surgeon from New Orleans, always ready with a raunchy joke or a rude aside. Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) is a quiet Australian, forever trying to steer his pal toward some polite manners. And yet the filmmakers manage to tell us, in a thousand tiny details, exactly why these two are friends. On the one hand, they were thrown together by the coincidence of marriage. On the other hand, they complement each other nicely. They share some of the same hard-luck stories. They know each other’s jokes. They parrot favorite movie lines back and forth just like any two best friends.
The laughs, like everything else here, are low-key and organic, growing out of situations rather than punch lines. Nelson and Eenhoorn excel at the sort of scrappy love/hate shorthand of people who’ve spent way too much time together.
But why are they in Iceland, precisely? Well, Mitch seems to think it will add some adventure to their dull lives, and perhaps they can get a bit of their youthful groove back. It’s not the smartest of plans. Two old dudes touring Iceland is pretty much the polar opposite of Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg hanging out beachside in Jamaica. Mercifully, Land Ho! gets through without a single Viagra joke.
Instead, Mitch and Colin tour the geysers, relax in the geothermal spas, eat lots of great-looking food and banter in that meaningless/meaningful way that longtime pals often do. We learn a tiny bit about what makes them tick, gather up a couple of small secrets and generally learn to appreciate these two past-their-prime, charming-in-their-own-way fellas (despite Mitch’s sometimes lecherous take on life). There’s a decent amount of humor, a touch of male bonding and a lot of lovely sights to see. Land Ho! is as much a couple’s therapy session as it is a beautifully shot travelogue of an infrequently seen country.
Structurally speaking (in the general sense that there is no structure at all here), Land Ho! most closely resembles The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s talky, largely improvised ramble through Northwest England’s Lake District. Eating, drinking and conversing take up most of the run time. Nelson (who appeared in Stephens’ other two films) and Eenhoorn (a veteran Australian TV actor) are no Coogan and Brydon. They’re not trying to be. The laughs, like everything else here, are low-key and organic, growing out of situations rather than punch lines. Nelson and Eenhoorn excel at the sort of scrappy love/hate shorthand of people who’ve spent way too much time together. It’s all about the characters here, and our boys feel quite real—sometimes uncomfortably so.
Though it would be a mistake to insert too much meaning in the film’s uncluttered narrative, there are certainly issues of aging, retirement, boredom and loneliness floating around the fringes. Is there such a thing as “over the hill”? And what does it really mean? The film never stares deep enough into the mirror to actually answer any of these questions, preferring instead to quietly observe the day-to-day banalities of life and the distracting geological formations of Iceland. There are no epiphanies here, no grand character arcs, no surprise endings. Ultimately, it’s just a circuitous line on a map, signaling neither beginning nor end. Sometimes that’s all you need.
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