Land Ho!, a film about two retirees on a road trip, offers no brick-to-brain message. There’s no happy ending—but there isn’t a sad one, either. For 95 minutes, not a whole lot happens, which is a bit of a relief considering its exclamatory title hints at shenanigans à la Grumpy Old Men.
Yet Land Ho! is a pleasure, even if it’s a slight one. Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) has secretly arranged a trip to Iceland for himself and his former brother-in-law, Colin (Paul Eenhoorn). Having recently lost one wife to death and a second to divorce, Colin balks at Mitch’s reveal, but eventually comes around in hopes the trip will help lift him out of mourning.
Mitch, though, is looking for a spark: He tells a woman that they’re “getting their groove back” in Iceland. A retired surgeon, Mitch is the kind of Southern-accented, dirty old 70-something man who can make a vulgar comment on any subject. Nelson, who’s only ever acted in films by Land Ho!’s co-writer and -director, his cousin Martha Stephens (partnered here with Aaron Katz), is a big presence in both body and personality, making Mitch ultimately believable though the character feels unevenly written at first. One minute, he’s describing a drink as “angels pissing on your tongue” and remarking on the asses of a much younger relative and her friend, and the next, he’s sophisticated enough to know good wine and appreciate fine art. Mitch is both a smooth- and straight-talker, with more wisdom than you’d expect from such a garrulous man.
This being a road movie, Colin is the opposite, naturally: a quieter and more low-key muser who’s sometimes embarrassed by Mitch. Eenhoorn is a veteran Australian actor, and his Colin is a reserved yet down-to-earth sophisticate who’s most comfortable in jeans and talks readily about Facebook and mainstream films. While Mitch takes some getting used to—and is occasionally unlikable—it’s easy to warm to Colin and sense his loneliness.
As the guys explore Iceland, it becomes clear that Land Ho! has a lesson to share: Minor joys can help heal major wounds. Mitch and Colin get giddy at a geyser, successfully drive their rented Hummer through a patch of water, and have pleasant conversations with strangers. (Let’s forget the cheesy romping-on-the-beach montage.) Their vacation experiences are both insignificant and huge.
But there’s another message here. The film is a lovely corollary to the saying “You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends”—for Mitch and Colin, both truths apply.