Editor’s note: Rob’s review of Prince Avalanche originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release this weekend.
There are two David Gordon Greens.
But this is news to no one, so I won’t bother breaking down the differences between the Green who directed the bleak, dramatic and emotionally oppressive Snow Angels and the one who made The Sitter, but let’s all just acknowledge the massive rift in quality, character and narrative and move forward from there. His first move away from serious dramas, Pineapple Express, was surprisingly funny and exciting, and Your Highness was a highly inconsistent mix of chuckles and misfires, but by the time The Sitter hit theaters in 2011, even his most ardent and highest supporters were silently slinking away.
Hopefully they booked a return trip, though, as Green’s latest film, Prince Avalanche, is one of his best and manages a fantastic blend of big laughs and affecting characters with an honest look at an unlikely friendship between two very different men.
Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are spending the summer of 1988 repainting lines down the center of a Texas highway damaged by a recent large forest fire. The two aren’t very familiar with each other, but Alvin is dating Lance’s sister and offered him the job as an act of kindness to them both. The two men couldn’t be more different. Alvin is a serious and contemplative guy who enjoys the solitude the job and ravaged landscape bring. Lance, by contrast, is insecure, unmotivated and can’t wait to get back to the city so he can get laid.
It’s going to be a long summer.
Green’s script, based loosely on the recent Icelandic film Either Way, is a road movie where the asphalt moves beneath the characters’ feet at a casual and methodical pace and the scenery rarely changes. The environment is completely different from the homes they left behind, but day to day it remains the same. It’s heaven for Alvin as he gets to tie knots, catch fish and write poetry, but a bored to tears Lance can only count the seconds until each weekend break. The two seem firmly set in their ways, but life has a way of interrupting expectations.
Both Rudd and Hirsch do strong work here, with the former channeling his more sedate and serious side while the latter goes for broke comedically at times. Hirsch actually resembles a young Jack Black in more than a few scenes thanks to his wry smile and method-actor weight gain. This is not a joke. They could be brothers. Rudd in particular agrees with the opportunity to break from his typically sarcastic rom-com straight man to deliver a buttoned-up character with damaged depths.
Those depths extend to both characters as the film transcends a simple tale of two people who each have something to offer the other. It’s a film that embraces the idea of male friendship without feeling the need to focus on the crasser aspects of guy life. Sure, there’s masturbation, hard drinking and talk of “fingering” (which Rudd makes sound like a perfectly innocent thing to do), but there’s far more emotion and truth, as well.
The film does feel a bit long, though, (thanks mostly to an extended ending) and could use either a slight trim or a visit back to the editing room. It’s never boring, but it does meander a little here and there. The only other real criticism is so minor as to be intangible, but Green’s seemingly arbitrary title gets a very brief shout out during a tent scene that feels like a forced intrusion simply to justify the name.
Prince Avalanche is a funny and intimate film about two unlikely friends in the making. It’s a sedate journey that finds time to entertain even as its characters come face to face with realities they weren’t prepared for, and it showcases two fine actors in atypical roles. Alvin and Lance aren’t the only ones growing up, though, as the film concludes without a single mention or reference to weed. Welcome to adulthood, Mr. Green. Welcome to adulthood.
The Upside: Rudd and Hirsch are stellar; very funny; hits subtle and not-so subtle emotional targets; nice return to quality for Green; score featuring Explosions In the Sky
The Downside: Could stand a short trim; line referencing the title feels forced/out of place
On the Side: Green’s next film is the Nicolas Cage-starring Joe, followed possibly by a remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria