SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2014
By Don Simpson | January 31, 2014
Directors: Martha Stephens, Aaron Katz
Writers: Martha Stephens, Aaron Katz
Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee, Alice Olivia Clarke, Emmsjé Gauti, Halldóra Guðjónsdóttir, Arnar Guðmundsson, Magnús Kr. Guðmundsson, Daníel Gylfason, Christina Jennings, Benjamin Kasulke
When Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) is invited to travel in tandem with his ex-brother-in-law, Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), on a road trip across Iceland, he is justifiably apprehensive. No longer married to the sisters who once connected them, Colin and Mitch are technically not related. Colin, a mild-mannered and reserved Australian-American, seems to be a bit intimidated by Mitch’s overweeningly brash demeanor. Maybe they cannot stand each other, but now that the aging men have grown sad and lonely (both men are currently single), they are grasping at straws for friends. Colin and Mitch have each seen their dream careers take undesired turns with age; they are in dire need of an escape from their monotonous lives in order to get their groove back.
By no means another Grumpy Old Men rehash, Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz’s Land Ho! is presented with the utmost level of realism, relishing in the everyday moments of these two average men who are presumably being played by variations of the actors themselves, Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson. While realism is often equated to meaning slow or boring, Land Ho! is neither. Thanks in no small part to the inherent structural nature of the road movie genre, the narrative of Land Ho! is constantly being propelled forward. Even in the quietest and most serene moments, there is always something interesting happening. Colin and Mitch’s poignant moments are just as affecting as their comedic ones.
Whenever our attention is turned towards Earl Lynn Nelson, we can anticipate comedic gusto. Eenhoorn is certainly no slouch when it comes to humor, but Nelson’s bravado is truly something else, especially whenever he partakes in some Icelandic “doobification.” Nelson is a sixtysomething man with a knack for politically incorrect, lewd and raunchy humor, but there is absolutely no denying that this man does not have a mean-spirited bone in his body. At this juncture in his life, Nelson is never going to become politically correct; he is the classic example of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks.
Coming from these two young writer-directors, Land Ho! is a surprisingly contemplative meditation on the social concerns of seniors, specifically in relation to aging and marginalization. As if Land Ho! is psychological experiment masterminded by Stephens and Katz, Eenhoorn and Nelson are placed in a variety of situations as the camera unobtrusively observes whatever happens. The motivation behind this endeavor seems to be a curiosity about aging and its effects on social behavior. With complete trust in Eenhoorn and Nelson, Stephens and Katz know that these two actors will provide the camera lens with a hefty dose of cinematic truth and make it as entertaining as humanly possible.
Stephens and Katz are known for making the natural environments of their respective films just as important as the protagonists themselves. Their strategy in Land Ho! is to allow Eenhoorn and Nelson to interact directly with their natural surroundings, which often prompts the two aging gents to react with childish glee. There is something practically primordial or prehistoric about the Icelandic landscape which frees Eenhoorn and Nelson from any social pressures or constructs. At times, it is as if they are the first and only humans to ever experience these idyllic places, which enables Eenhoorn and Nelson to finally be able to just be themselves. As if pressing their proverbial reset buttons, Eenhoorn and Nelson delve deeply into existential self-analyses that will hopefully help them start anew.