' ' Cinema Romantico: Land Ho!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Land Ho!

Near the end of “Land Ho!” its seminal moment arises. Two men in their sixties, Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), one-time brothers-in-law, less friends by choice than circumstance, have come to Iceland for a rejuvenating road trip. Camped out in the pristine Nordic countryside, Mitch confesses his reasons for conscripting Colin into this voyage were not entirely forthright and so he proceeds to offer an explanation. And the explanation is everything precisely because it isn’t much at all. The details will not be revealed but suffice it to say they are not based in disease – “I have cancer” – or some such. He didn’t even technically lie, he just conveniently eliminated information because, well, as a man of booming pride he felt a little embarrassed. And in that embarrassment, he betrays a remarkable honesty. And Colin responds just as a real friend would, reassurance by way of soft humor. Then, the film, like life, simply continues as is.

In a thus-far four film career, Aaron Katz, who edited and co-wrote and directed here with Martha Stephens, has proven himself an unrivaled purveyor of these moments, ones in which he takes a traditional movie scenario (The Confessional in this case) and rather than spoof it or turn it inside-out, strips it of the showy non-essentials, leaving behind only the imperatively authentic.

Consider a moment in their trek aboard a rented Humvee (matching Mitch’s personality perfectly) wherein they confront rushing water across the narrow road. Not knowing if they should dare and drive through since they do not know the precise depth, Colin decides he will wade out to gauge it. Seconds later, another car zooms past to reveal it easily passable, instantaneously sucking dry the scene’s inherent suspense, which is essentially what the film itself is doing. No specific goal is aimed for, no obvious epiphany waits. Instead “Land Ho!” is about finding peace in the moment and peace in the place.

Mitch is a gregarious Kentuckian, a part-time pothead and ogler of women half his age who can B.S. with the best of ‘em. This is a dangerous character to both create and play, one that is so outsized and often boorish it teeters on the edge of outright obnoxiousness, like Jonah Hill in “Superbad” with a pension, and yet every boast and vulgarity is undercut with a surprising sweetness. A retired doctor, a brief scene in which he brings out his stethoscope is full of low-key compassion, and acquires further meaning as the film progresses.

Colin, of course, is his opposite, an introspective Australian who is both accustomed to and nevertheless still chagrined (humorously and exasperatedly) by his friend’s behavior. You might say they are a new school Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, but that would suggest “Land Ho!” belabors the rote idea that “opposites attract” when it is more interested in exploring how common ground can be forged in spite of opposing mindsets.

The landscape becomes integral, not incidental, to their journey, the mountainous panoramas and erupting geysers encountered upon leaving Reykjavik behind subtly working to reduce the dual protagonists in their image. Nowhere is this more apparent than an ill-advised middle-of-the-night hike that finds them swallowed up by nature's vastness with nothing but a pair of pitiful glow sticks for guidance. It predictably leads to squabbling - The Break-Up, you might say - but almost instantly the characters move past it. Even as the environ diminishes them, it builds them back up, immersing them in its restorative powers, such as a sequence in a hot spring in which Colin essentially has a lo-fi Meet Cute. It is not, however, a trigger for transformation but a simple embrace of the present. “Land Ho!” is not about getting old and reflecting but about being old and recognizing, an idea the film brilliantly illustrates by ending when it does.

Early in the film, Mitch’s once-removed cousin Ellen (Karrie Crouse) and her friend, Janet (Elizabeth McKee), both college-aged, passing through on their own excursion, join the older men for a fancy dinner. Janet gives a lifelike oration on her field of study, Jewish Mysticism, explaining that below the surface of what we perceive as reality is a divine spirit. Not long after the girls have gone on their way, Mitch and Colin find themselves bundled up on a beach, shuffling to a song on the soundtrack bestowing “Land Ho!” its title. I don't really know if a divine spirit bubbles beneath the surface of this tiring and frustrating reality of ours, but to watch this moment and to watch this film undoubtedly makes me believe that sentiment might just be true.


Shane Slater said...

Just watched this last week and now I totally understand why you love it so much. Wonderful film.

Derek Armstrong said...

I saw this last week (thank you, iTunes 99 cent rental) and was quite taken with it as well. I'm even more taken with your identification of what works so well in it. Well done.

Nick Prigge said...

Anyone that seeks this film out is a friend of mine. Even though you were both already most definitely friends of mine, but you know what I mean.

Unknown said...

I have only insufficient words to express my deep admiration for this beautiful film plenty of an authentic "humanism" and a good taste. I have never seen in my long life such an excellent exemple of veridic realism. We adults should try to watch it again in the company of an old friend or in a group of young people who want to learn more about us old guys.