You get to a certain point in life—40, 50, 70, divorce, the death of a spouse, or your retirement party—when you think there’s nothing left to do or see on this Earth. You’ll never experience love again. There’s nothing more to get excited about. You don’t have enough money. Your body is falling apart. Naps matter more than sex. Youthful dreams are but a memory—a mockery, really. And meanwhile, people are posting those goddamn videos on YouTube: baby’s first bite of kiwi fruit, and so forth. All that squealing amazement and infantile hand-waving; and you know kiwi fruit will never taste that way for you again. What is the point to living?
That’s the existential dilemma for Dr. Mitch, well into his 60s, adult kids gone, divorced, eating dinner alone when we meet him. He won’t admit it, of course, especially to his somber visitor Colin, his former brother-in-law, who carries the weight of post-midlife more heavily. Colin’s kids are also grown, his first wife died, and his second wife divorced him (after burning through his savings in their failed business). Colin initially seems the guy in need of cheering up, which the earthy, garrulous Mitch makes his mission.
Oh, did I neglect to mention this is a comedy? And one of my favorite films so far this year? Land Ho! is a buddy movie and a road-trip picaresque with an unusual pedigree. It was directed and written (with a healthy dollop of improv) by indie filmmakers Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens almost on a dare. Stephens has a loud, colorful cousin, Earl Lynn Nelson, who’s a surgeon, not an actor. And her premise was simply “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we brought Earl Lynn to Iceland?” To be his foil, they selected an actor they liked, the Bellevue-based Australian Paul Eenhoorn (see interview).
The impulsive making of the movie reinforces the spontaneous trip hatched by Mitch (Nelson) to drag reticent Colin (Eenhoorn) to Iceland, where Mitch also plans to meet a young cousin and her friend, two eye-rolling Ph.D.’s. These old goats are in need of an adventure—through the discos and fashionable restaurants of Reykjavík; out to the remote hot springs and black-sand beaches—and they’re fully aware it could be their last adventure. (“Life is too short to sit still,” says Mitch, who gradually reveals his own problems and need for companionship.) Bucket list meets travelogue in this winning male-menopause comedy, which shares themes with the recent Burkholder and the upcoming The Trip to Italy.
Usually I’m a critic of loose story construction, but the slapdash Land Ho! is too charming for such quibbles. What Nelson and Eenhoorn have is genuine Hope and Crosby–style chemistry. Strangers before filming, from different professions, they couldn’t be more different. Yet onscreen, their extrovert/introvert dynamic reflects the dilemma of aging. Mitch insists the glass is half full, while the bubbles have gone out of Colin’s half-emptied drink. And though he quietly protests the overbearing Mitch, we see—thanks to Eenhoorn’s expert performance—how Colin is secretly pleased by the attention and reanimated by Mitch’s vulgar vigor. It’s a toast: two glasses clinking in harmony, measure for measure. The bottle isn’t done pouring yet. Opens Fri., Aug. 22 at Guild 45th and Lincoln Square. Rated R. 95 minutes.