Such is the case with Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz‘s Land Ho!, which opens today at Belcourt Theatre. This leisurely look at two mature friends on a trip to Iceland has a gentle flow with enough bite (and lovely scenery) to keep us entertainingly engaged throughout its 95 minutes.
Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson, Stephens’ second cousin and an Oculoplastic surgeon in real life) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn, who Nashville Film Festival fans will remember for his award-winning role in This is Martin Bonner) are ex-brothers-in-law who’ve drifted apart. Now Mitch, a retired surgeon who can’t quite admit to being retired, drags a reluctant Colin to Iceland for the holiday he thinks both need to find their “mojo” again.
Southerner Mitch (very much patterned after the man that plays him, according to the production notes) is a ballsy guy with a penchant for pot who’s often given to the vulgar and profane when expressing himself; among his colorful lines is the following descriptive passage: “…this is so delicious it’s like angels pissin’ on your tongue!”) Australian Colin is far more introverted, but this odd couple share pain from previous failed relationships and uncertainty about what to do with themselves at this stage in their lives.
Nelson and Eenhoorn have terrific chemistry together, all the more amazing when you consider the movie was shot on location in Kentucky and Iceland over just 18 days (It’s also pretty amazing how fast the whole project developed – from initial discussion via text message on Jan. 16, 2013 to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 19 of this year.) “I felt like I was shooting Die Hard 4,” Eenhoorn says in the production notes. “I was always cold, muscles pretty tight, never really warmed up. It was mentally tough too. It looks like it was bloody fun, but it was really concentrated hard work for both me and Earl Lynn. But – it could never have looked so relaxed onscreen if it had been chaotic off-screen. It was planned to the nanosecond – all the production and logistics were really spot-on and that made everything a lot less stressful. It wasn’t a run-and-gun shoot – these are all people at the top of their game.”
There’s strong support too, most notably from Karrie Crouse, who plays Mitch’s cousin Ellen, and Elizabeth McKee as her friend Janet, who arrive from Greenland and spend a night out in Reykjavík with their elder escorts. Canadian Alice Olivia Clarke (who in real life is married to an Icelander and has called that country home for 20 years) has a nice turn as Nadine, who provides a brief respite of romance to the proceedings.
The allure of Iceland is certainly an important character in Land Ho!; in addition to the capital city there are scenes in Skógar, Jökulsárlón, Landmannalaugar, Gullfoss, Strokkur, and Blue Lagoon that captivate the eyes. Cinematographer Andrew Reed does an excellent job of framing natural and other wonders while keeping us focused on the duo at the heart of the story. Scoring this tale with a good dose of upbeat musical humor and energy is Nashvillian Keegan DeWitt, who will be introducing one of the Belcourt screenings (see below).
Land Ho! is an easy-going take on friendship that never tries too hard. Perhaps that’s the key to its success – it respects its characters and its audience with a look at long-time pals that is as revitalizing as the mineral springs for which Iceland is deservedly famous.
Click here to go to the Belcourt Theatre website for showtimes and tickets. On Tuesday, Sept. 9, there will be an introduction from Nashville musician Keegan DeWitt, who composed the film’s soundtrack, before the 6:15 p.m. screening. This film is rated R for some language, sexual references and drug use, 95 min. Click here to visit the film’s official website.
*Photos by Andrew Reed courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.