Prince Avalanche (2013) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for some sexual content and language
Running time: 94 min.
Cast: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne
Director: David Gordon Green
Screenplay: David Gordon Green (based on the movie, "Either Way", by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson
David Gordon Green (Your Highness, Undertow) returns to his art-housey roots as a small-scale, poignant independent filmmaker after the last few years making some fairly dumb, zany comedies, and proves he still has the magic touch. Prince Avalanche isn't as melancholy as some of his older films, but that element is certainly there in this gentle but intriguing comedy effort.
Set in Texas in 1988, shortly after a major wildfire burned up a good deal of the forest area near the town of Balstrop surrounding a lengthy stretch of rural road, Paul Rudd (This is 40, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) stars as Alvin, a road worker tasked with inspecting some of the burned areas and marking up the yellow lines and placing mile posts on the road. Alvin's a veteran who is showing the ropes to the new guy working alongside him, Lance (Hirsch, Speed Racer), who is the brother of Madison, the girl Alvin is currently seeing and is madly in love with. Whereas Alvin takes his job as if it were of utmost importance, Lance begrudgingly does what Alvin says, counting the days and hours to the weekend where he can get his "little man squeezed" at a party in town. The men are different enough that they get on each others nerves, though the solitude of their surroundings and their task at hand forces them to bond with one another in a way they might not outside.
Green adapted Prince Avalanche from an Icelandic film from 2011 with the English title of "Either Way". While it is a semi-loose interpretation of the same basic story, especially with the comedic elements that Green introduces, there are aspects of European cinema that do emerge in Green's take, including the concentration on characterizations over plot, the use of montage to evoke feelings, and the contemplative framing of nature to extract meaning beyond just the story of two guys with a job to do. The environs are just as much a character in the film as Alvin and Lance. The score of the film, credited to Explosions in the Sky, is quite striking, and though it is subtle during most scenes, there are some key moments, especially in the aforementioned montages, in which it is the driving force of the film. It does have the feel of a play for the stage, though strengthened by the actual footage from the environs outdoors.
The characterizations are interesting because, while both characters have flaws, neither can recognize them themselves (which is one of their flaws). However, to the other, those flaws are readily apparent, and though they resist pointing them out full bore when they can, when nerves get frayed, neither character can refrain from holding back, and the devastating result can be read on the face of the offended party. The basic problem with each other is that Lance is so extroverted in his thinking, he finds the quiet, sparse environs to be maddeningly dull to someone who enjoys the company of others. Alvin's problem is that he embraces the solitude, reveling in some time alone to do all of the things he enjoys doing, to the point where he isn't working on his own relationship with Madison, except through verbose hand-written letters detailing every aspect of his uneventful days. Lance doesn't seem to respect Alvin's need for privacy, probably because Alvin seems to hold everything he has and does as his own sacred temple that is defiled just by Lance putting his own mark on them.
So, why is it called Prince Avalanche? I don't have a definitive answer, and Green claims it doesn't really have a meaning, though he could be acting coy. I suppose the easiest answer is that its two main characters are called Alvin and Lance, which combined sounds like "Avalanche". Or that an avalanche, like the massive wildfire, can be a natural disaster, just like the disasters going on in the men's own lives.
In a Hollywood full of busy movies that throw special effects and thunderous crashing at its audience constantly, it's refreshing to spot a subtle, sublime film that means something to its filmmaker that he would like to impart. It's a bit like a short story that has been stretched out to feature length, probably because several scenes contain no dialogue, and those that do are ostensibly not about anything important (which is an important theme of the film). Those are moments that provide a leisurely pace and force its viewers to feel the quiet and solitude that the men in the film also feel. While the literal description of the plot is about two very different men who must work together to repair a road, metaphorically, it's about two men who must work together to repair themselves.
Prince Avalanche is a difficult movie to classify, which also makes it a difficult movie to recommend to just anyone. Certainly those who enjoy the less raunchy works of David Gordon Green will probably like this first and foremost, as it marks a long overdue return to trying to find his own voice in movies. Further, fans of Rudd and Hirsch should like their performances, so long as they know that these guys are playing defined roles that aren't exactly the characters they tend to do in most of their films. It has an indie pedigree, so if you enjoy quirky, borderline-absurd films in which you must derive your own meaning to appreciate, Prince Avalanche is a refreshing change of pace.
©2013 Vince Leo