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‘Prince Avalanche’ is a funny, moody look at men in limbo

‘Prince Avalanche’ is a funny, moody look at men in limbo


Prince Avalanche
USA, 2013
Written and directed by David Gordon Green

David Gordon Green says that he was inspired to make his most recent film, Prince Avalanche, after shooting a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler that featured Clint Eastwood. His crew was about ten men, with not much star power (Eastwood isn’t on screen for two-thirds of it), and it was shockingly easy for Green considering how much money Chrysler was willing to put at stake. Prince Avalanche is similar, a film so easygoing and simple that it seems to have required no effort at all, but which never seems lazy.

In the wake of a Texas wildfire in 1988, Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are road workers in the damaged land, replacing road signs and re-painting the central divider line along a highway running through it. It’s quiet, isolated work, which doesn’t jibe with Lance’s wild-child personality. Lance is obligated to be there, however, because his sister and Alvin are dating and Alvin got him the job to make her happy. The tension between them is what makes the film hum, in between the moody moments where Green meditates on the fire-blasted landscape.

The mere presence of Rudd is enough to signal that this film is going to be quite funny. He’s one of few comic actors today who can be either the silly center of the movie as in Our Idiot Brother, or, as here and in I Love You Man, the straight man. However, it will be clear right away that this film is not aiming for raunchy comedy, in the way that Green’s previous efforts Your Highness and The Sitter were. Rudd is the straight man and Hirsch is silly, but neither one is aiming for something hammy and over-the-top. Even an older comedy such as The Odd Couple is probably more wild than what Green is trying for.

Because of the low-key comedy and the surrealist touches of the fire-damaged landscape, this movie is being touted as a return to form for Green, in the style of his earlier films George Washington and Snow Angels. However, that’s not entirely fair. Green still shows a sympathetic ear for both the braggadocio and the vulnerability of two guys who are, at heart, screw-ups. If Lance were entrusted with babysitting a group of precocious kids for a night, the result would be much like The Sitter; if Alvin had a preference for marijuana, then these two guys could easily have an adventure along the lines of Green’s Pineapple Express. This film may not be as bawdy or outrageous as those two, but Green has not lost his interest in a certain sort of character.

The most interesting aspect of Prince Avalanche, the one that is most likely to inspire conversation among cinephiles, is whether or not these characters actually learn anything by the end. These two characters go to some interesting emotional places, but the actual decisions that Lance and Alvin make seem extremely ill-advised. If there were a sequel to Prince Avalanche, one could easily imagine it beginning with the lead characters fired from their road-maintenance job, being sued by the state of Texas for the way they concluded it, and in jail as a result of where they went to next. Still, maybe that would be better than the limbo that they’re in at the start of the movie. Green doesn’t want to deliver characters who learn to stop being screw-ups, he just wants his screw-ups to find a purpose.

-Mark Young