HITCH A RIDE WITH A CRAZY OLD PAIR OF EX BROTHERS-IN-LAW
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Rating: R, Grade: A
I should prepare you right off, “Land Ho!” – from the writing and directing duo of Aaron Katz (“Quiet City” and “Cold Weather”) and Martha Stephens (“Passenger Pigeons” and “Pilgrim Song”) – plays a deliciously cruel joke on viewers that will be incredibly easy to forgive, once you get over the initial shock. The film, as it introduces us to its two leads – Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), a boisterous old coot from New Orleans if ever there was one, and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), a quietly retiring fellow from Australia – adopts a manner that deceives us into believing what we are in for is a documentary about two men who were once brothers-in-law (married to sisters), and although the marriages ended, the guys have found their way back to one another and an odd-couple relationship rooted in genuine affection.
Mitch has reached out to Colin. There is the sense each man is drifting alone in rafts on the ocean and suddenly crossed paths, with Mitch serving as the active party tethering them together. He is a survivor through and through, with a willingness that borders on the needy to draw everyone in close. He wants to talk, sharing bawdy stories and crude insight, but never with the intention of offending. Mitch isn’t exactly clueless or truly tasteless; he’s too generous a spirit for that. In fact, he’s the perfect wingman.
This is where Colin comes in. Colin is a former classical musician (French horn) turned bank manager who lives inside his head and heart, both of which are obviously wounded. And he’s too cautious for his own good, because as we come to see, when he opens up, Colin is naturally engaging and able to draw people out of themselves.
“Land Ho!” settles us in during a visit, arranged by Mitch. He prepares dinner for Colin, and during their catching up on each other’s current situations, makes Colin an offer he won’t let him refuse. Mitch has bought two tickets to Iceland and arranged for a road trip, just the two of them. Mitch sells it as a chance for the pair to get their groove back, although it is hard to believe Mitch has lost his mojo. There is a stark and plainspoken rapport between the men that, even with the contrasts between them, feels lived-in and matter of fact. Mitch and Colin are simply Mitch and Colin.
Once they hit the road, we want nothing more than to continue along with them. There’s not a single actorly hint in either performance. Even now, I still have a hard time acknowledging Mitch and Colin aren’t real people. They are at once hip and funny, melancholy and as human as your next door neighbors or your favorite uncles.
While attending the Munich Film Festival this summer, I ended up checking out a documentary called “Good Luck Finding Yourself” from writer-director Severin Winzenburg, which detailed the journey Winzenburg’s mother Jutta undertook after being diagnosed with an incurable cancer. Jutta gathered a group of friends she had known for more than 40 years and went on a spiritual quest for inner peace, but the trip, with many stops along the way, is fraught with pitfalls and instances where, at one time or another, everyone seems willing to call it quits. The idea at the heart of the film is intriguing, but as traveling companions, Jutta and friends become unbearable. They are former hippies obsessed now with navel gazing and Wi-Fi.
Oh, but that’s not the case with Mitch and Colin. The guys have more than their share of testy moments together, but you always know they are going to get over the disagreements and keep going, because their relationship is like the one you have with your best friend in the world. “Land Ho!” isn’t about Mitch and Colin finding land because that would mean their journey would be over. Katz and Stephens have breathed life into these guys and we simply can’t let them go.