I have to give Land Ho! credit, because seniors typically don’t get their shot at proper road trip comedies. It’s always frisky teens searching for sexual nirvana, or boyfriends trying to save their relationship – but what about a couple of grey-haired grandpas rekindling their friendship abroad? Just because their bedtime might be on the early side doesn’t mean these two silver foxes can’t rage it up American Pie style – but that’s a completely different movie.
While this is Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens’ show, serving as joint writers and directors, Executive Producer David Gordon Green’s influence can be felt throughout – almost as an homage to his indie workings. Land Ho! is the unlikeliest of buddy comedies, but just like Gordon Green’s Prince Avalance, this natural adventure was missing a certain sense of enjoyable establishment – sufficent for some, but problematic for others.
Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn play respectively brother-in-laws Mitch and Colin, two single stallions ready to take hold of their lives once again despite advanced ages. Mitch, a retired doctor, decides to splurge on tickets to Iceland for the two, in hopes that an invigorating exploration would help “get their groove back.” Traversing the vast Icelandic landscape with the help of alcohol and a few doobies, their relationship is tested after a period of time apart from one another. Between the nightclubs, dinners, and general shenanigans, can Mitch and Colin hold their friendship together while searching for new, exciting happiness in the later stages of their life?
While Eenhoorn is no stranger to the big screen after starring in This Is Martin Bonner (among many other films), Lynn Nelson only has two other credits to his name in much smaller roles, which is something one has to keep in mind while watching his foul-mouthed character butt heads with Eenhoorn’s more reserved, gentlemanly personality. Nelson possesses a childlike vigor that lends naturally into his character’s man-child demeanor, as his mind is polluted with sex, drugs, alcohol, and possibly Rock ‘N Roll – something he attempts to impose upon his traveling buddy. In essence, both embrace their character’s lifestyles in ways that fit Katz and Stephens’ pseudo-mumblecore adventure, but there’s a weird wedge shoved between the audience and performers, as if Land Ho! can’t decipher its own cinematic personality.
Before launching into grumpy critic mode, let me say that the essence of Land Ho! is pure. Two lively geezers are fed up with a system that basically puts them out to pasture, forcing them into a monotonous early retirement, so what better way to shake up their lives by flying to Iceland on a whim (No, Greenland is the icy one). Mitch and Colin are renegade adventurers embodying the wishes of an entire generation, and their international journey is a bit “fish-out-of-water” in the way they travel from town to town with no real ambition. Why are twenty-somethings having all the raunchy fun? The intentions of these two unlikely party people are simple, innocent, and sweet, finding compassion in friendship – but this isn’t the problem for me. Land Ho! doesn’t falter in message – only in execution.
Mitch is supposed to be vulgar comedic relief, the too-old-for-debauchery character pulling joints out of his pocked while trying to get drunk on 3.5% ABV Icelandic beer. All his conversations surround which celebrities he’d like to boink, going into extreme details as to why, and his mannerisms while talking to woman are often aggressive, blunt, and inappropriate – but I had a hard time following Mitch’s path. Did I chuckle at the senior’s attempts to rage it up? Absolutely, everyone enjoys the elderly freaking out while in a psychedelic daze, but his forced over-the-top nature becomes incessantly awkward and out of place, ruining scenes of genuine chemistry. There’s also an entirely-too-creepy interaction with one of Mitch’s far-too-young nieces and befuddling comments are made – despite an overarching bond of love between the two.
It’s sad, but Mitch’s overbearing comments throw Land Ho! off-kilter far too often, even though Katz and Stephens establish themselves as indie filmmakers with an eye for thoughtful framing and gorgeous set location. Many shots are captured while cameras pull as far away from characters as possible, showing Mitch and Colin as tiny specs against large Icelandic scenery – showcasing how out-of-place the two are. There’s a lovely scene where the duo visit a geyser, waiting for the misty explosion (which Mitch of course crudely describes otherwise), and after a while, the camera flips to the other side of the eruption after being positioned behind the two, hiding them behind a thick layer of water that eventually reveals a giddy happiness when the barrier subsides. These directors know how to tell a story through picture, but again, that isn’t the problem.
Land Ho! may be a film that I’m leaning towards the negative side on, but it’s also a film I’m happy I gave a shot. Good-natured and alive in spirit, Iceland has now shot up my list of dream vacation destinations, but unfortunately it’s not directly because of Mitch and Colin. These two bring a youthful vibe to such “experienced” characters, but Katz and Stephens’ script becomes a little too heavy-handed with unfocused additions of aggressive off-color comments. These oldies are given their shot to compete with the young bucks of comedy, dolling out relationship advice while admiring loving relationships they once had themselves, but unfortunately the groundwork doesn’t exactly promote a successful transition – but maybe that’s just the uneducated whipper-snapper in me talking.
Land Ho! works wonders as a pro-tourism ad for Iceland's gorgeous landscape, but in terms of story, it feels forced and comes off as unnatural during its raunchier moments.