When you think of the expression "hate the sin; love the sinner," it's easy to picture a person with a good heart who is guilty of serious crimes.
But after watching "Land Ho!," one might connect the expression with a crude, sexist, pot-smoking grandfather figure whose irrepressible warmth and homespun sincerity make you want to hug him and insist that he join your family for dinner.
The man behind this incredible paradox of a character is Earl Lynn Nelson, who isn't really an actor at all. Nelson plays Mitch, a retired doctor from Kentucky who drags his ex-brother-in-law Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) along on a trip to Iceland. But regardless of the degree of difficulty, there is little doubt that the final product is a performance to remember.
Mitch and Colin set out on their adventure to help them come to grips with their old age. The ex-doctor provides the initial enthusiasm, woven between equal amounts of homespun wisdom and ill-timed observations that shouldn't be shared in mixed company (though they always are). Colin is a reluctant partner, a retired bank manager (though his passion was the French horn) who was recently abandoned by his second wife. Mitch and Colin were married to sisters once upon a time, until death and divorce separated their paths.
And so the pair heads to Iceland, thanks to a little coaxing from Mitch, where "Land Ho!" delivers audiences 90 minutes of scenic charm, wit and sobering reflection. Early on, they join Mitch's much-younger cousin and her friend for a night of clubbing. They visit a modern art museum and share bad movie impressions. Later, they venture out in a rented Hummer to visit lighthouses and geysers and remote campsites. Along the way, they confront the real reasons that brought them so many thousands of miles from home. "Land Ho!" is a beautiful, simple story about friendship and family and getting old. And it has a huge heart.
The breakout star here is Nelson, who practically forces a smile on your face at regular intervals. There's no question that his performance will be the big takeaway from "Land Ho!," and will likely be considered one of the highlights of the entire festival. But Eenhoorn is a perfect, sympathetic foil as Colin, the steady, cautionary figure in the middle of a three-quarter-life crisis. Together, they make for one charming odd couple.
It will be interesting to see Iceland's tourism numbers for 2014. Between last December's "Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and Sundance 2014 darling "Land Ho!," the remote icy paradise has been getting center stage on the big screen. Just as in "Walter Mitty," "Land Ho!" makes great use of the lonely, ponderous landscape of the remote island to reflect the profound beauty and weight of the issues they are juggling in their hearts.
Directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, and featured at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Land Ho!" is not rated. But the film contains enough crude dialogue, drug use and profanity (three instances of the f-word) to bump it into a likely R-rating, which quite honestly is unfortunate. This is a sweet movie that would connect with just about anyone who sees it.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.