Emile Hirsch as Lance and Paul Rudd as Alvin. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for Prince Avalanche.
June 14, 2013
(Republished July 24, 2013)
What a lovely, lyrical wonder David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche is. A remake of the Icelandic comedy Either Way, it transplants the tale of two poorly-paired road workers to East Texas, circa 1988, shortly after wildfires have ravaged the terrain. Their task is to paint those yellow lines on the newly paved road, and it's a bitterly long and thankless one. You wouldn't think it a scenario ripe for humour, or even tragedy for that matter, yet stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch are a brilliant comic twosome, with the ability of making even small, throwaway glances and line-readings inspire waves of laughter.
The real magic of Prince Avalanche, though, is not its success as a funny movie. There are moments of unexpected tenderness, and occasional haunting asides. Our heroes have signed up for this job because they're running from something or another, and happy to be isolated while they work through their issues, or, even better, until the people back home learn to accept them. With the ghosts of those lost in the fires all around them - perhaps even literally - they're reminded that this formerly fecund forest is no place for the living. What they're doing, that's not living. Prince Avalanche is about two men who learn to live again.
Rudd plays Alvin, a moustached, self-styled 'man's man' with an appreciation for knot-tying, fly-fishing, and open-air camping. His partner is Lance (Hirsch), the dim-witted brother of his beloved girlfriend Madison. Hired as a favour, Lance seems to hamper Alvin more than help, but steadily, they spray those lines. Lance gets the weekend off, allowing Alvin some peaceful personal time (and a special mention here to cinematographer Tim Orr as well as composers David Wingo and Texas band Explosions in the Sky, who help to construct the masterful vignette in which Alvin wanders around the ruins of the crumbled houses). When Lance returns, he brings with him several devastating transmissions from the real world. Their first reaction, naturally, is to take out their frustration on each other. Violently.
Green's standing in recent years has declined significantly. Once considered a future Terrence Malick, his last two features - god-awful gross-out flicks Your Highness and The Sitter - weren't enough to even earn him the title of future Dennis Dugan (that's the guy who makes all those Adam Sandler flicks, in case you hadn't picked up that essential piece of information on your travels). His early efforts, such as George Washington and the wonderful All the Real Girls, suggested an interesting filmmaker was emerging, as opposed to the one who ultimately made James Franco masturbate a troll (if my memory of Your Highness serves me, and I truly hope it doesn't). However, anyone who'd been watching Eastbound and Down knew that he still had talents as a director. That strange, darkly comic, elegiac show is perhaps the most cinematic thing on television, save for Breaking Bad. Green's talents haven't disappeared; they were just briefly lost in the woods.
Prince Avalanche is a beautiful movie, in content and execution. I suspect it will hang around in my memory for some time, and I didn't initially expect that of a buddy comedy starring Rudd and Hirsch. Both actors do fine, against-type work here; the latter looks and feels like a young Jack Black. The title's meaning remains somewhat ambiguous, as does the film's final sequence (which I won't spoil here). One thing is far from ambiguous: this is a triumph. We often reserve that word for grand spectacles and epic achievements. Little wonders can be triumphs too.
Prince Avalanche plays the Melbourne International Film Festival August 1 and 11, 2013.