Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Land Ho!

The industrial-strength whine of an unseen engine dominates the opening moments of Land Ho! What could it be? A plane getting about to take off for some exotic place? A chainsaw preparing to rip through something--or someone? Nope, it’s a vacuum cleaner, wielded by Mitch (played by Earl Lynn Nelson, co-director Martha Stephens’ second cousin). Mitch, we soon learn, is a recently retired surgeon who’s cleaning up a bit before his favorite ex-brother-in-law, Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) comes over for dinner.

That aural punch line is a nice introduction to this deadpan but lively film, which presents everyday situations and encounters with just enough of a twist to focus our attention on them. And you’ve got to savor the small stuff, as Land Ho! gently reminds us, because those seemingly inconsequential moments make up the warp and the weft of our lives.

Colin and Mitch at first appear to be a classic odd couple, a refined, artistic introvert mourning the end of his marriage and a blustery, crude extrovert with a lust for life and a gift for coining colorful phrases (“this is so delicious you’re not going to believe it,” Mitch tells Colin of the food they’re about to eat. “It’s like angels pissing on your tongue.”) But the two are not so easily pigeonholed, and neither is their relationship. As they meander through Iceland on a road trip planned and paid for by Mitch, who insists that Colin join him, we learn that the apparently tactless Mitch is a good listener, that quiet Colin can be silly and spontaneous, and that their easy rapport (the two take one look as the dishes they ordered arrive in a restaurant, then switch plates without exchanging a word) is rooted in a deep mutual affection and respect.

Mitch and Colin often stop to take in natural wonders like the Gullfoss double waterfall, the camera lingering on the sights while the two old friends talk about their disappointing children, jobs and love lives or goof around like kids made giddy by the sheer, unfamiliar beauty in front of them. Their trip is also punctuated by encounters with other people, some cringe-inducing (Mitch asks a honeymooning couple how many times they have “gone to the mat”), some profound (Colin has a lovely encounter with a woman they meet at a camping site) and some droll (the two spend an improbable evening with Mitch’s much younger second cousin and her friend, who happen to be visiting Reykjavik too).

Rarely overtly dramatic and often sweetly absurd, Land Ho! has real emotional heft, reminding us that you’re never too old to lose your way—or to find it again.

Written for The L Magazine

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