We're all getting older, but when are we officially old? Is it an age thing or a health thing or a cultural thing? Howard Stern, Denzel Washington and Jerry Seinfeld all turn 60 this year. Old?
Perhaps it's that some of us are born old, while others achieve oldness and others still have oldness thrust upon them. Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) is in that last group. An accomplished surgeon, he was told he needed to take the retirement package and go away or he was simply going to go away. But Mitch lives more in one day than men half his age. He hates being idle, so on the occasion of a friend's divorce, he invites his fellow retiree to travel to Iceland with him. A wonderful postcard to the world's oldest parliamentary democracy (fun fact), "Land Ho!" lacks substance but makes up for it with charm.
Why Iceland? Because it looks great in the movies, maybe. Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) is just as confused about their destination, but Mitch is paying for the whole thing, so he doesn't complain too loudly. Mitch and Colin became friends when they were married to a pair of sisters. One ended in divorce, one in death. Colin remarried and that one didn't work out either.
There seems to be more at play here than just Mitch showing his friend a good time. For one thing, it's not abundantly clear what these guys have in common besides failed marriages in the same gene pool. Mitch is larger than life; Colin retreats from it. Mitch, a burly, boisterous southerner always seems to have a pretty good stash of pot at his disposal; Colin, a fit and lean Aussie who would blend into any crowd, hasn't smoked it since the '70s. "The Nineteen-seventies," asks Mitch, dumbfounded.
Most of "Land Ho!" is just two fish constantly out of water. In addition to acclimating to the foreign land, both Mitch and Colin have to feel each other out for a long while. We don't learn a lot about the guys, other than they're just like everybody else: Why get old as long as you have the energy to fight it?
Neither actor is a familiar face. Paul Eenhoorn has done some very independent stuff, but this having played Sundance back in January automatically makes it his highest-profile film. Earl Lynn Nelson, strangely enough, really is a doctor. He has a plastic surgery practice in Kentucky, and his cousin, Martha Stephens, is one of the film's directors. So it's not a huge leap to believe that you're not seeing Mitch on the screen so much as Dr. Nelson. Regardless of his filmography or training, Nelson steals the show. It's there for the taking, true, but the guy's a hoot, unexpurgated in that great way the heavily seasoned can be from time to time.
There is clearly a base demographic for this film, but that doesn't tell the whole story of its appeal. What this has over a movie like "Last Vegas," the recent "And So It Goes" or even something a little better-executed, like "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," is that it doesn't fall neatly into that older demographic. Mitch chats up everybody from his grad student cousin (in Iceland for a layover) to honeymooners in their 30s to a middle-aged Canadian photographer. But he's always Mitch, and it always works. That gives the film a youthful touch, along with its cinematography and music, that should open up its prospects to younger audiences.
Though it doesn't have a lot on its mind, "Land Ho!" is a lot of fun if you like bawdy uncles. And who doesn't have a soft spot for those guys?
Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson in Land Ho!