Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) are ex-brother in-laws (they married sisters). Colin’s first wife — Mitch’s wife’s sister — died a while back, but the two have kept a tentative relationship going. Why not? Once you reach a certain age it’s hard to make new friends, easier to stick with the one’s you’ve got.
Now Colin is coming off another separation, this one a divorce, and Mitch decides to cheer him up by taking him on an all expenses paid vacation to Iceland. Colin isn’t a 100% sold, but Mitch, a retired doctor, insists that he burn through his money in the best possible way. Iceland, here they come!
Land Ho! could have easily been titled, Colin & Mitch Take Iceland, but I suppose the original is more succinct. Or at least, more accurate. Colin and Mitch are adrift in a sea of aging loneliness, and find grounding and meaning on this arctic island. Poignantly, the movie’s final act find the two of them traveling along Iceland’s Route 1, a ring road that brings them right back where they started. If this kind of metaphorical maneuvering bothers you, worry not, because that is as far as Land Ho! goes.
This largely plot-less travelogue unfolds in a very natural and improvisatory manner. We learn more about our characters (Mitch is a kind, but dirty old man who loves to drink and smoke pot; Colin is a stick in the mud) as they travel the island. They share an outing with two younger girls (Karrie Crouse & Elizabeth McKee), take in the sights, get lost, Colin meets a younger woman (Alice Olivia Clarke) at a hot springs, etc. It all sounds very episodic, and it is, but the shoe fits and this one fits quite comfortably.
Writer/directors Aaron Katz & Martha Stephens navigate this material with a surprising amount of confidence. With Land Ho! the desire to give back story and explain who Mitch and Collin are prior to this trip would be the traditional way to approach this story. However, knowledge does not always equal empathy, and if we learned too much, we might not see Colin and Mitch in the same light. When it is revealed that Mitch no longer practices medicine, he offers Colin and the audience the explanation that he was offered either termination or a retirement package. Why? He doesn’t say, but based on his behavior we have witnessed, we can speculate, as does Collin who knows as much as we do.
If we had learned the exact reason why Mitch was fired, it would not have added, it would have only subtracted. Backstory isn’t always necessary to explain who characters are. What they have gone through and why they do what they do can be irrelevant if we see the final results right in front of us.
Land Ho! doesn’t offer too much beyond a simple story of two men still looking for, and finding, adventure at a later point in their life. That’s enough to make an interesting movie. Land Ho! does end a little abruptly, but then again, what sort of ending was I hoping for? It’s an uncomplicated ending that gets out before it gets too boring and I’m grateful that it wasn’t anything more than that.