Land Ho!

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Paul Eenhoorn: We had a script and we would run the lines and then we would throw them away.
"The contrast between the characters and the actors sparky chemistry means the laughs have a head start, but there is also a considerable amount of psychological terrain being covered."

It's easy for road trip films to become more about encounters than the people making the journey but in this gentle and thoughtful comedy from Pilgrim Song's Martha Stephens and co-director Aaron Katz (Quiet City), the backdrops may be stunning and the people met interesting but they are never allowed to upstage the central friendship.

Paul Eenhoorn - who garnered plenty of attention (and a Sundance award) with his low-key, moving performance in This Is Martin Bonner, plays a similarly calm role here, as Colin. He's on a trip to visit his former brother-in-law Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) - a man who is in many ways his polar opposite, being larger than life and dirty minded. As they sit down to chat over soup, Mitch tells Colin it's so good it's "like angels pissing on your tongue" - a mark of the humour that laces this offbeat charmer. The wives may have come and gone but this relationship is still going strong.

Copy picture

Over the course of the evening, Mitch tells Colin he has bought tickets for both of them to visit Iceland and so, the stage is set. But unexpectedly - and enjoyably - Stephens and Katz don't use this as an excuse to pepper us with character revelations and plot twists. Instead, we are just invited to join them for dinner and then relax in the back of their four-wheeler as the pair travel about.

The contrast between the characters and the actors sparky chemistry means the laughs have a head start, but there is also a considerable amount of psychological terrain being covered, most notably concerning the lust for life that can come as we suddenly realise we've got more of the stuff behind us than we have in front. Speaking about the film at Sundance, the filmmakers said that it was around 50 per cent scripted, with the remaining split between looser structuring and about 25 per cent improvised. At the risk of number-crunching, I'd guess about 20 per cent of that belongs to Nelson, he has a way with a one-liner and perfect sense of comic timing, with his observations on modern art at a gallery the pair visit worth watching this film for in their own right.

But this is not simply being played for laughs. A dinner with one of Mitch's younger relatives and her pal shows the pair's conflict between a desire to possibly turn back to the clock - symbolised by a bunch of joints Mitch acquires - and the comfort of knowing that you don't have to throw yourself about in a noisy nightclub to be able to enjoy friendship and a pint.

Gracefully and gradually, the film takes in romance, regret and wistful longing at the same time as celebrating the people these men have spent their whole lives becoming - all while the humorous camaraderie continues. The revelations are small and often internal but the acting is so good that we understand. Cinematographer Andrew Reed lets his camera roam and showcase the landscape but knows when to focus in, so that he catches the reactions of Eenhoorn to Nelson's freewheeling - usually a wry smile or a eyeroll that makes him our surrogate. And despite Nelson's obvious physical and linguistic dominance in the film, Eenhoorn carefully works his role, so that Colin's journey remains as important as that of his more vulgar pal. They say good things come in small packages and, with its sympathetic scoring from Kevin DeWitt and admirable camerawork from Reed, this one is beautifully wrapped, too.

Reviewed on: 16 Apr 2014
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Land Ho! packshot
Two old friends take a trip to Iceland.

Director: Aaron Katz, Martha Stephens

Writer: Aaron Katz, Martha Stephens

Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Alice Olivia Clarke, Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee, Emmsjé Gauti, Magnús Kr. Guðmundsson, Þrúður Kristjánsdóttir

Year: 2014

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Iceland, US


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