Getting Your Groove Back with Land Ho!
When Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) is invited to travel in tandem with his ex-brother-in-law, Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), on a road trip across Iceland, he is justifiably apprehensive. No longer married to the sisters who once connected them, Colin and Mitch are technically not related. Colin, a mild-mannered and reserved Australian-American, seems to be a bit intimidated by Mitch’s overweeningly brash demeanor. Maybe they cannot stand each other, but now that the aging men have grown sad and lonely (both men are currently single), they are grasping at straws for friends. Colin and Mitch have each seen their dream careers take undesired turns with age; they are in dire need of an escape from their monotonous lives in order to get their groove back.
By no means another “Grumpy Old Men” rehash, Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz’s “Land Ho!” is presented with the utmost level of realism, relishing in the everyday moments of these two average men who are presumably being played by variations of the actors themselves. Thanks in no small part to the inherent structural nature of the road movie genre, the narrative of “Land Ho!” is constantly being propelled forward. Even in the quietest and most serene moments, there is always something interesting happening. Colin and Mitch’s most poignant moments are just as affecting as their comedic ones.
Whenever our attention is turned toward Nelson, we can anticipate comedic gusto. Eenhoorn is certainly no slouch when it comes to humor, but Nelson’s bravado is truly astonishing, especially whenever he partakes in some Icelandic “doobification.” Nelson is a sixtysomething man with a knack for politically incorrect, lewd and raunchy humor, but there is absolutely no denying that this man does not have a mean-spirited bone in his body. At this juncture in his life, Nelson is never going to become politically correct; he is the classic example of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks.
Coming from these two young writer-directors, “Land Ho!” is a surprisingly contemplative meditation on the social concerns of seniors, specifically in relation to aging and marginalization. “Land Ho!” functions as a psychological experiment masterminded by Stephens and Katz in which Eenhoorn and Nelson are placed in a variety of situations as the camera unobtrusively observes whatever happens. The motivation behind this endeavor seems to be a curiosity about aging and its effects on social behavior. With complete trust in Eenhoorn and Nelson, Stephens and Katz know that these two actors will provide the camera lens with a hefty dose of cinematic truth and make it as entertaining and endearing as humanly possible.
Some critics have written off “Land Ho!” as a propaganda piece for Icelandic tourism because of the prominent role that the natural beauty of Iceland plays in the narrative, but Stephens (“Pilgrim Song,” “Passenger Pigeons”) and Katz (“Cold Weather,” “Quiet City”) are known for making the natural environments of their respective films just as important as the protagonists themselves. Their strategy in “Land Ho!” is to allow Eenhoorn and Nelson to interact directly with their natural surroundings, which often prompts the two aging gents to react with childish glee. There is something practically primordial or prehistoric about the Icelandic landscape which frees Eenhoorn and Nelson from any social pressures or constructs. At times, it is as if they are the first and only humans to ever experience these idyllic places, which finally enables Eenhoorn and Nelson to just be themselves.
And sure, “Land Ho!” all but ignores the people of Iceland, relegating them to the inconsequential backdrop of the narrative, but the directors did not set out to make a film about the Icelandic population. Stephens and Katz remain completely honest to the perspective of the two lonely seniors who have traveled to a far-off land in order to delve deeply into existential self-analyses that will hopefully help them start their lives anew.
As a huge fan of Stephens and Katz’s past projects, it was no surprise to me that I fell head over heels in love with “Land Ho!” at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. What really did surprise me, however, was just how freaking funny this film is. “Land Ho!” is one of the more uplifting films about aging in the history of cinema, one that strongly professes that it is never too late to get your groove back. Everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — needs to see “Land Ho!” when it is released by Sony Pictures Classics (Release Dates: Austin on August 22; Santa Fe & Albuquerque on August 29).