“Land Ho!” — one of the truest films ever made about male bonding — is a quirky buddy road trip flick that contains not one moment that isn’t completely believeable.
Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens’ minimalist effort is in the style of Kelly Reichardt (whose “Old Joy” would be the perfect other half of a double feature bill). It relies totally on character rather than cute situations.
It’s often funny, but also a bit sad.
It is going to frustrate those with short attention spans. Its cast members are unknowns and aside from a couple of old guys visiting tourist attractions in Iceland, not all that much happens. Or so it may appear…stick with it and discover a sneakily effective film about aging and friendship.
Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), a recently retired surgeon, invites his former brother-in-law Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) for dinner at his home outside New Orleans. The two men, both pushing 70, used to be married to sisters. Both unions ended in divorce — Mitch’s many years ago and Colin’s so recently that the pain is still fresh.
They haven’t seen each other for ages, and Colin is taken aback when Mitch announces he’s treating them both to a tour of Iceland. (Why Iceland? Mitch has read that in addition to the mountains, geysers and volcanoes, the women there are beautiful.)
Talk about unlikely traveling companions…Mitch is a Southern-fried good ol’ boy — loud, crude and about as politically incorrect as you can get in matters of women and sex. Typical of his discourse is his praise of a particularly tasty dish: “Like angels pissing on your tongue.” He describes his four sons as “one gay, one living in Berlin, one a convert to Judaism, and one regular.”
Colin is an Aussie, a former symphony musician (French horn) who now works in a bank. He’s childless, introspective, wry, and rather glum.
With a bombastic bud like Mitch, though, no one can stay glum for too long.
They spend one night in Reykjavik wining and dining Mitch’s cousin Ellen and her friend Janet (Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee), who are returning from Europe where they were doing research for their graduate degrees. The two young women may or may not be an item, but that doesn’t keep Mitch from bringing out his white-haired playboy routine — much to Colin’s bemusement/humiliation.
Just when you think Mitch has taken boorishness to a new level, his medical expertise is required and we realize that he probably was a terrific doctor with a great bedside manner. With him it isn’t always the Dixie cowboy.
Tooling around in a humongous black rental Hummer, the guys visit a monumental geyser (Mitch, naturally, likens it to the Earth having an orgasm), smoke some pot, eat some great meals, and have a brief falling out when Mitch insists on going for a late-night walk and getting them lost out on the tundra (or whatever they call it in Iceland).
They soak in natural thermal baths. They meet an American woman (Alice Olivia Clarke) with whom the newly lighthearted Colin strikes a couple of sparks.
And that’s about it. But it’s plenty.
“Land Ho!” feels like the perfect combination of scripted dialogue and off-the-cuff improvisation. The knowledge that most of the cast members have worked before with co-director Stephens suggests the sort of rapport that would allow for an easygoing collaboration.
The film is drop-dead beautiful, with cinematographer Andrew Reed finding great images both in Iceland’s stupendously epic landscape and in the wrinkled visages of its two main characters.
But it is the depth of the wholly natural performances that linger on after the viewing. Most movies are populated with blatantly impossible characters. This one features people who could live in the house across the street.