‘Prince Avalanche’ Review
There are few feature filmmakers harder to pin down than David Gordon Green. He was among the first to be branded "Malick-esque" with his dreamy character drama 'George Washington' in 2000. He later dovetailed into "bro comedies" from the well-received ('Pineapple Express') to the universally reviled ('The Sitter'). There has been other comedy work that I've admired, like his episodes of 'Eastbound & Down' and the under-appreciated 'Your Highness' but it is only with his latest, 'Prince Avalanche,' that he's been able to marry his early, poetic voice with his dark humor.
Set after a devastating forest fire in late 1980s Texas, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play Alvin and Lance (say the names quickly to kinda-sorta get the title), two road crew guys working on the clean-up. They camp along the road and rise early to hammer posts, paint short yellow lines, drop cones and apply reflectors. It is tedious, eternal work.
Turns out Lance is the younger brother of Alvin's girlfriend. Like many in their early 20s, he is a bit aimless, worried mostly about securing cheap sex and, to be frank, not too bright. Alvin has nobler aspirations. He's got German language tapes to prepare for a forthcoming trip and has specifically chosen this line of work for its Thoreau-like properties. He fishes for his dinner, draws and even dispenses a little sage advice to young Lance now and again.
After a weekend apart (Lance goes to town to try and score) Alvin learns that he's been dumped. As this is, basically, among the only significant plot points in 'Prince Avalanche' you'd think I'd be hesitant to reveal that in a review. But the traditional details of the movie aren't what count. (I think this is part of the late 80s setting, the act of "looking back" adds a bit of purposeful emotional distance.) What matters is the conversation, which is funny, and the unique way Green presents it, which is darn near unprecedented.
Mixing genres is the toughest thing to do in cinema, and arty, melancholy comedy is no easy feat. 'Prince Avalanche' features a number of mesmerizing montage sequences set to evocative, seemingly discordant music. I've seen so many low budget films that, when the drama isn't happening naturally, slap on some resonant music in the hopes that it can create magic out of thin air. This isn't that. (Nor is it M83 or Sigur Ros, it is original music by David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky.) These sequences are almost as numerous as the "2 dudes riffing" scenes, working as a yin and yang that ultimately form a rather difficult-to-describe tone. It is so very rare to watch a movie and think a) I don't exactly know how I should be feeling and b) I think that's exactly how the filmmaker wants me to feel.
'Prince Avalanche' is, to be clear, a movie for people who operate on the deadpan and lo-fi frequency. It lacks the urban zing of Jim Jarmusch's work, but that attitude of "you're either getting this or you're not" still comes across. And despite all the cinematic flourishes, there are plenty of tender and wise moments of inchoate friendship. I think 'Prince Avalanche' is David Gordon Green's best feature and I hope he can stay in this groove for a follow-up.
'Prince Avalanche' premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.