In a summer of Hollywood big action blockbusters targeting 25 to 45 aged movie goers, here’s a comedy to be appreciated by seniors! The film, playing on memories of long ago, has earned praise as one of the best comedies from the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and arguably labeled the funniest geriatric comedy since “Grumpy Old Men.” The screen play written and directed by Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz is typical of the duo’s approach that, rather than imposing any artificial melodrama or comedy on the proceedings, they allow their characters to simply lose themselves in conversation and the pleasure of each other’s company.
The plot follows a pair of 60-something ex-brothers-in-law, Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) and Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), hoping to reclaim their youth travelling through Iceland, meeting an interesting assembly of characters and learning more about each other along the way. Their picturesque adventures, from trendy Reykjavík to the rugged outback, are a throwback to classic bawdy road comedies as well as a candid exploration of aging, loneliness, and friendship.
It begins with a long-overdue reunion between the two who were once related by marriage, as Seattle-based Colin arrives on the Kentucky doorstep of his former brother-in-law, Mitch. The requisite stark contrast in personalities is established right off the bat when the gregarious, all-American loudmouth Mitch, tells Colin, a softer-spoken Australian-American, that he’s planned an impromptu trip to Iceland for the two of them. After some half-hearted protest, Colin agrees, the vacation being just what he needs to get his mind off his recent split from his second wife.
Before long the two men land in Reykjavik, where Mitch has a fairly simple, effortlessly pleasurable agenda in store: stay in nice hotels, eat at the city’s finest restaurants, and possibly smoke some premiere local pot (“doobification” Mitch calls it) before moving on to the scenic countryside, with its hot springs and hiking spots. (The cinematography alternates between intimate close-ups of the characters indoors and staggeringly beautiful outdoor vistas.)
Inevitably, the men are joined by a pair of attractive, much younger female companions, Ellen and Janet, who have been touring Greenland and coincidentally find themselves in Reykjavik at the same time as Colin and Mitch. After some initial tentativeness that dissolves once Mitch breaks the ice, so to speak, the four ultimately develop a warm, friendly rapport that serves, for the two gents, as a sweet, sad reminder of their vanished youth. The screen abounds with the logic that you’re never too old to soak in a hot spring, get high on really good weed, or give a marvelous screen performance.
Viewers experience a melancholic bawdy, bittersweet ode to friendship’s lasting joys and life’s inevitable regrets. As it moves its characters toward a delightfully well-earned ending “Land Ho!” strikes a near-perfect balance between indie scrappiness and mainstream polish; although written and acted along mostly naturalistic lines, it’s more than just an inarticulate rambling exercise. The film’s pleasures as eye-candy travelogue are delivered withoutpretense or apology; certainly the Icelandic Tourist Board can expect upbeat business from viers of this film.
What gives the story its moment-to-moment buoyancy is the pleasure of watching two actors working brilliantly in tandem. “Land Ho!” stirs memories of “Waking Ned Devine” in its celebration of enduring friendship between senior geezers, an alternative to a summer full of comic-book tales and raunchy comedies. That a comedy starring two actors of a certain age will touch on its characters’ lifetime disappointments, interpersonal resentments and encroaching sense of mortality is more or less a given; it’s considerably less assured that it will cover this well-tilled territory as gracefully as “Land Ho!” does. As Mitch and Colin bid farewell to their companions and head for the interior, our sense of their individual lives deepens appreciably; we learn a bit about their failed first marriages, their relationships with their children, and particularly their professional setbacks: Colin was once a promising French-horn player who ultimately settled into an indifferent banking career, while Mitch, a surgeon, discloses that his recent retirement wasn’t exactly voluntary.
With only a few screen credits to his name, Earl Lynn Nelson makes a fairly unforgettable impression as the sometimes lovable, sometimes trying Mitch, the kind of free thinker with varied interests who likes to point out the phallic subtext of geysers and lighthouses, and who thinks nothing of doling out some unsolicited marriage advice to a honeymooning couple he meets in a hotel lobby. The more veteran Paul Eenhoorn is no less invaluable as the more restrained, refined half of the duo who can nonetheless reveal a wild and silly side, just as Mitch at times proves capable of unexpected sensitivity.
Not only is the film laugh-out-loud funny, but it has gorgeous scenery shot on location all over the beautiful country. “Land Ho!” is an absolute indie delight, one you can enjoy with the whole family, especially your grandparents.
The film opens in select markets through the summer.
Written by: Alex Reynolds