Over the past few years, director David Gordon Green has strayed from his indie auteur roots more than a bit, and the results have been decidedly uneven. His studio stoner comedies have been hit (Pineapple Express) or miss (Your Highness). His work on the HBO series Eastbound & Down, starring his cohort from earlier times, Danny McBride, was one of the best TV comedy series of the past few years. Shades of Green’s early indie work can certainly be found in all his projects, but it seemed like perhaps the days of intimate, slightly pretentious, and altogether unique films like George Washington and All The Real Girls might have passed. However, Green’s new film, Prince Avalanche, finds him perfecting the balance between his work in easy comedy and Terrence Malick-inspired dreamscape territory. The film, based on an Icelandic movie from 2011 called Either Way, is at times funnier than any of his recent straight-up comedies. It’s also a thoroughly enjoyable relationship movie about two men, one young, one old(ish), that is utterly devoid of sap—not an easy task when clichés are so easy to lean upon.
The story takes place sometime after a severe wildfire has claimed a wide swath of forest near Austin, Texas, in the mid-1980s. Lance (Emile Hirsch) and Alvin (Paul Rudd) are spending the summer working as a two-man road crew in the burned-out state park, painting yellow lines on roads, planting posts, and camping out in the woods each night. Lance is barely present; he’s an airhead whose attitude defines “working for the weekend,” as he single-mindedly longs for a chance to go back into town and hook up with girls. A chunky, longhaired Emile Hirsch channels Jack Black in the role, smartly playing dumb the whole way through. Alvin, on the other hand, is a pretentious pseudo-intellectual who fancies himself something of a modern-day Thoreau. Once again, Rudd plays the straight man hilariously, as the two fight over whether Alvin’s German-language lesson tapes or Lance’s ’80s hair metal cassettes should be the soundtrack to their tedious and rather Zen-like work. (Apparently, their “equal time boombox agreement” isn’t working out so well.) It turns out that Alvin only gave Lance the job because he’s dating his sister, whom he writes long letters to each night. Obviously, relationship woes are just around the corner.
The dialogue is light and spry, even as Alvin and Lance attempt to engage in philosophical conversations about love and life, keeping the film from becoming heavy and mawkish. Along the way, they run into a good-natured but cantankerous old man played by the late Lance LeGault from The A-Team. This would be such an easy role to devolve into a hackneyed portrayal, but Green and the actors don’t take the easy route. Almost the entire film takes place in the park—which was actually recently burned down in a wildfire, providing an unfortunate but effective reality to the proceedings. Tim Orr’s photography is beautiful, and Green spends more than a few moments allowing the camera to languidly admire the nature surrounding his characters. Add the soundtrack by instrumental post-rockers Explosions in the Sky to the mix, and there are some charmingly contemplative moments.
Lance and Alvin talk and talk and get drunk and clash and make up, and the film never gets boring in the meantime. Their final, drunken dust-up is hilarious and berserk, offering a release of tension for characters and audience alike. Occasionally Hirsch’s characterization of Lance wears a bit thin, but Rudd’s earnest Alvin reels it all back into place. Prince Avalanche is essentially a road movie, but one that never actually gets moving, an apt metaphor for the point at which both Alvin and Lance are in their lives. A friendship begins to take shape, and one could even say some lessons are learned, but thankfully Green knows when enough is enough.
David Gordon Green
David Gordon Green
Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault
Release Date: Aug. 9, 2013