If two dudes quarrel in the woods … do they make a sound? Director David Gordon Green has graciously stepped back from making underachieving R-rated comedies to give us what could end up amounting to an underachieving R-rated comedy, but in truth offers a good deal more.
Based on a story by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurosson, “Prince Avalanche” follows two men doing road repair work in the wildfire-ravaged Texas wilderness in the summer of 1988. Alvin (Paul Rudd) has hired his girlfriend’s brother, Lance (Emile Hirsch) to work alongside him hammering in reflector posts and painting traffic lines. The two are archetypal opposites: Alvin the focused, organized and wiser character and Lance the immature, unskilled free- wheeler. Their naturally tenuous relationship goes through ups and downs and unsurprisingly, the two find common ground in their opposite approaches and perspectives.
The David Gordon Green who directs this film recalls the one who made “All the Real Girls” and “Snow Angels,” not the one appeared to steal his name and made “Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness” and “The Sitter.” One could argue it’s a middle ground offering between Green’s two extremes because of the film’s comic angle, but the pace and style has more Terrence Malick influence than anything else and the humor isn’t written in so much as it emerges organically from the back-and-forth of the performances.
With a combination of nature establishing shots, the camera zooming down a road and a stirring soundtrack from Austin-based post-rockers Explosions in the Sky (a nice local touch), “Avalanche” exudes indie-ness. It’s quirky, comically exaggerated, poignantly human and Green tells it in a logical but atypical narrative structure. The film is a voice-over narrator away from being so independent it wouldn’t be independent anymore.
Half of “Prince Avalanche” focuses on setting a reflective tone through visuals, while the other half examines these characters through their dialogue with one another. Much of the script consists of conversations that simultaneously reveal their utter simplicity as well as their true humanity. The story ultimately mediates on notions of loneliness and our need for companionship in both platonic and non-platonic forms.
Rudd and Hirsch make all the comedy click, though Green has a way of framing certain shots that bring out the humor in seemingly ordinary situations. Both actors are on top of their game — few can strike a balance between comedy and honesty like Rudd and “Avalanche” is an ideal showcase for that talent. Hirsch, meanwhile, continues to offer up evidence why he’s grossly underrated.
“Prince Avalanche” tries to find that sweet spot between comedy and relationship drama, and though it strikes a few resonant chords emotionally speaking, it’s not nearly as fulfilling or powerful as Green’s poetic imagery suggests that it desires to be. It has a bit too much fun reveling in its weirdness and goofy, innocent man-child characters, but on the flip side, how many films with goofy, innocent man-child characters even manage to achieve this level of thoughtfulness?
Directed by David Gordon Green
Written by David Gordon Green, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurosson (story)
Starring Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch