|Eenhoorn and Nelson happily tread water in Land Ho!|
««« Land Ho!. Written and directed by Aaron Katz & Martha Stephens. At selected theaters.
Sooner or later, you end up seated on a plane, bus or train next to someone who is 1) much older than yourself, and 2) chatty. And it inevitably happens that, expecting an ordeal, you get surprised—your seatmate is actually pretty interesting, and more than a little cool for their age. If you haven't learned something by the end of the trip, you at least feel a little chagrined at expecting the worst.
That's pretty much the impression left by newcomers Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens' septuagenarian road movie, Land Ho! It's another departure in the growing genre of similar films (Sideways, The Trip, Eat Love Pray, the upcoming Trip to Italy) premised on the notion that, sometimes, you need to go away to find yourself. It's become a formula as familiar as the old Bing Crosby/Bob Hope "Road to…" movies, except instead of G-rated hijinx and tunes, we get cuisine, scenery, and personal growth.
The travelers this time are Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn). Mitch is a doctor who recently retired under vague circumstances. An unapologetic sensualist, he's a charmer so sincere in his vulgarity that it's hard to fault him. He pairs uneasily with widower and former brother-in-law Colin, a soulful ex-concert musician long ago forced to give up his art for a desk job. Out of little more than loneliness, Mitch cajoles the bereft Colin into accompanying him on a trip to Iceland, promising spectacular landscapes, juicy lobsters, and lots of lovely Scandinavian ladies.
The chemistry between the two leads—bird-dogging clown vs. mopey artist—is reminiscent of Sideways, except perhaps running at 33rpm instead of 45. (If you don’t get this reference, youngsters, ask your grandparents.) As a virtual newcomer, the seventy-two year-old Nelson is unpolished and stunningly authentic. He's a guy who naturally charms the camera. Eenhoorn, a veteran from Australia, seems crafted by comparison, but no less compelling in his ruefulness.
Nothing of much urgency seems to happen as we travel with these guys, and it doesn't much matter. Iceland, after all, is famous for its "Golden Circle", an itinerary that puts you back exactly where you started—hopefully a little wiser for the journey.
How Land Ho! combines character and landscape is perhaps the most surprising thing about it. Iceland's moody starkness almost insists on Bergman-esque treatment—two pilgrims on the edge of mortality staring out into a gray, eternal sea. But Katz and Stephens chose to see Iceland as it really is, as one of the geologically newest pieces of real estate on earth. In that sense, this is no valedictory for old men, but the birth of something too young to have a name.
© 2014 Nicholas Nicastro