The beautiful scenery is a major selling-point of “Land Ho!,” a genial but meandering tale about two duffers who take a trip to Iceland. Boasting not so much a plot as a generalized expression of the joy of life in the so-called golden years, the movie is rather like the cinematic equivalent of being treated to the travel photos of an elderly relative who adds color commentary as he flips through the pages of his scrapbook. It’s slow, sometimes tedious, but often engaging and at times very revealing.
The gents are Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), a gregarious Southern surgeon, and his ex-brother-in-law, Australian expatriate Colin (Paul Eenhoorn). The two reunite for dinner after years of not having seen one another, and the contrast is quickly established, with Mitch coming across as a rough-talking motormouth and Colin a recessive, sometimes embarrassed, listener. At the close of the meal Mitch announces that he’s bought vacation tickets for both of them to Iceland, and though Colin is taken aback, he reluctantly agrees to go along.
The remainder of the picture is devoted to following the two around the unfamiliar country, with episodes set at hotels, spas, waterfalls, geysers, lighthouses and the great outdoors generally. Occasionally other characters are introduced. At one point Mitch’s cousin Ellen (Karrie Crouse) and her friend Janet (Elizabeth McKee), both grad students, show up and share meals and conversation with the men. At another the pair encounter a hiker (Alice Olivia Clarke) with whom Colin enjoys a potentially romantic moment.
For the most part, however, the movie centers on the guys, gradually revealing more and more about their pasts and their present. We learn bits and pieces about their wives (Mitch divorced the one sister, while Colin’s wife died) and children (Mitch is, of course, estranged from his), as well as their careers (Colin gave up a promising one as a musician to take a job he disliked in banking, while Mitch was recently forced to give up his surgical practice). We see Mitch’s habit of smoking pot and making rude remarks, even to strangers he might bump into in a lobby (his advice to a newlywed couple is a perfect example), while Colin quietly accepts his companion’s frequently raucous conduct with what appears to be a natural note of resignation. And yet we can feel the men’s affection for one another, their ability to share their most painful secrets and gain renewed determination to soldier on from each other’s companionship.
Much of the film’s pleasantness arises from the natural, unforced performances of Eenhoorn and Nelson. Much of their dialogue sounds improvised, but whether or not that’s the case, it has a lackadaisical quality that sounds completely genuine. It’s Nelson who hogs the spotlight with Mitch’s take-charge attitude and tough language, but he might come across as simply irritating were it not for Eenhoorn’s quiet, undemonstrative support. The loose air extends to the supporting players as well (McKee’s recitation of a ghost story Janet has recently read sounds as though it’s being made up on the spot).
But there’s a third star in “Land Ho!”—Andrew Reed’s cinematography, which makes luscious work not only of the Icelandic locales but of the various dishes Mitch and Colin order in the fancy restaurants they regularly dine in. The way in which the camera luxuriates in the images is accentuated by the unhurried direction of Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz (who also wrote the screenplay) and Katz’s editing, abetted by Keegan DeWitt’s background score.
“Land Ho!” might initially seem slight, but it’s the sort of film that sneaks up on you if you’ll give it a chance, the charm gradually winning you over. It winds up being an enjoyable trip with companions you’ll be happy to have been introduced to.