Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Land Ho! (***1/2)

Written and Directed by Aaron Katz & Martha Stephens


The two main characters in Land Ho! are purposefully crafted with such contrasting personalities, a boon toward the odd couple dynamic that's played throughout the film. Paul Eenhoorn is an Australian actor whose silky accent compliments his homely face and thinning hair - he feels like a true thespian. His co-star is Earl Lynn Nelson, a larger than life personality with a boxy build and a Kentucky drawl. Both men are deep into their sixties (Possibly older? Both actors have shrewdly managed to keep their age off of the all-encompassing information machine that is the internet) and they are the stars of this Sundance hit from directors Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens. Sure, Eenhoorn and Nelson seem like complete opposites, and Land Ho!'s script does it's best to highlight the gulf in personality between the two, but that contrast is never used for the expected set-ups that come with these types of films. Instead, Land Ho! accomplishes the much harder task of convincing us that these two men really could be very good friends and bring out the best in one another. Despite two septuagenarian protagonists, Land Ho! is not a droll meditation on mortality, but vibrant embrace of life and a stunning display of real friendship.

Eenhoorn plays Colin a recently divorced retiree in need of a real pick-me-up. He visits his former brother-in-law, Mitch (Nelson), who surprises him with two first class tickets to Iceland for an impromptu vacation. Colin is skeptical and slightly ashamed that he can't afford to contribute financially, but Mitch insists. Mitch, a kind but blunt and outspoken man, all but forces Colin's hand, and the two friends are off to the arctic cities of Iceland. A lot of the trip is spent in Reykjavik and all of ear-splitting dance clubs that the capital city has to offer. They have dinner with two much younger women, play with glow sticks and drive around the country in a hulking H2 Hummer. Colin is frequently miffed with Mitch's apparent aloofness regarding his surroundings and his pushiness regarding Colin's wardrobe and choice of activities. The tension between the two men is played occasionally, but Katz and Stephens know that the film is at it's peak when its main characters are having a grand ol' time. They explore more into the country, seeing an explosive geyser and swimming in the hot springs. Through it all, Colin sees that being single at his age is not the doom and gloom that it may have seemed to be.

Like We Are The Best! earlier this Summer, Land Ho! is such a spirited display of friendship and adventure; both a document of character and a wonderful showcase of scenery and landscape. Quite simply, Land Ho! makes you feel good about humanity, giving the audience a sweet appreciation for the simpler perks of life. As a commercial of sorts for Iceland, the film really captures the country's variety of attractions, and the two directors photograph the country with a romantic beauty. But the film's best scenes are between Colin and Mitch, both men slightly insecure about their age and showing it in almost opposite ways. Their trip is both a grasp towards youth and an affirmation that their age is not what holds them down. Over the course of the trip, they talk about past relationships, retirement - Colin's was voluntary, Mitch's was forced - and taking advantage of the eternity of time that now sits before them. Mitch helps Colin have fun, and Colin makes sure that Mitch doesn't get himself killed. Staying at a bed & breakfast, Mitch strikes up a conversation with two honeymooners and overstays his welcome in a way that would be cringe-worthy if we weren't already aware that he means every word that he says.

Eenhoorn was in last year's This is Martin Bonner and delivered a performance that garnered him a lot of attention. I didn't see that film, but his work here is subtle and heartbreaking. His lovelorn figure is slightly pathetic but dignified. Eenhoorn wisely never plays Colin as elitist. Deep down, Colin knows his needs and wants are just as simplistic as Mitch's and it's Eenhoorn's earnestness that makes the movie's central relationship most believable. As Mitch, Earl Lynn Nelson is terrific, a furious balance of loud-mouthed brashness and teddy-bear empathy. The key to Nelson's brilliant, hysterical performance is that he never plays it as though Mitch is trying to stay young; we'd believe that Mitch would still be acting this way even if he were still at home. Land Ho! is one of the funniest movies that I've seen this year, though I wouldn't call it exclusively a comedy. It's inherently funny to see old men behave with this kind of abandon, but it's less funny watching these old men do it because they are not embarrassed by their behavior. Aaron Katz and Michelle Stephens both made films separately, but this is their first collaboration (it would appear that Nelson is an exclusive actor for Stephens' films). Together, they made a feel-good film without any of the fluff. Along with it's 80's-themed soundtrack, the film is a wonderfully vibrant movie about the serenity life can occasionally offer.

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