Following a trio of studio features in recent years2008's "Pineapple Express
," 2011's "Your Highness
," and 2011's "The Sitter
"writer-director David Gordon Green returns to his quieter, more thoughtful indie roots for the first time since 2008's "Snow Angels
." Heavy on symbolism and light on the kind of easily digestible plot hook that studios seem to love, "Prince Avalanche" takes its time while methodically wrapping the viewer up in the mundane professional exploits of two road workers whose job of painting yellow lines on a mountainous country byway in Texas lays out before them like a seemingly never-ending snake of barren asphalt. Lean and observational, the film relies upon the performances from Paul Rudd (2013's "Admission
") and Emile Hirsch (2011's "The Darkest Hour
") to guide the way, their tricky, intermittently combative interplay a balancing act that, at any moment, could cross over from dramatically involving to over-the-top and annoying. Thankfully, neither actor lets this happen.
Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are a two-person road crew in 1988, traveling around the desolate back roads of Central Texas where a fire destroyed 43,000 woodland acres the year before. Forced to camp out along their route and away from their families for too long, elder boss Alvin stays in contact with girlfriend Madison through the letters he writes her and claims to enjoy the solitude. Meanwhile, wayward twenty-something LanceMadison's brotherfeels desperately isolated, living for the weekends when he can return to his parents' house, hang out with friends, and hopefully enjoy the company of a female companion. Before their current work assignment is over, both guys will be forced to face the truth about who they are as people and where they currently stand in their lives.
"There's a difference between being alone and being lonely," Alvin tells Lance early on in "Prince Avalanche." Whereas Lance is just about going stir-crazy stuck out in the middle of nowhere, Alvin has made peace with the requirements of his job and tries to make the best of it. In certain ways, they are both fooling themselves. Lance isn't fit for this line of work, but in need of some growing up so he can he can get his priorities straight. Alvin is older and more responsible, but he lacks confidence and is neglectful of how difficult his constant travel must be on his significant other. Paul Rudd is considered more of a comic actor than a dramatic one these days so it is nice to see him return to this kind of low-key role, humor arising out of his natural interactions with Lance while simmering underneath the surface a layer of palpable frustration and low self-esteem. Emile Hirsch makes for an effective, unassuming foil, playing a young man not ready for the full load of adult responsibilities just as he's beginning to realize that "good enough" isn't nearly enough to make him happy.
Evocatively photographed by Tim Orr (2012's "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
"), based on the 2011 Icelandic film "Either Way" by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, "Prince Avalanche" leads as far as Alvin and Lance can see around the next bend. Not everyone is out painting lines on the road, but just about anyone will be able to connect to these touchingly human characters and the day-to-day routine of having to get up in the morning and make a living, whether one feels like it or not. In the meantime, ghostly reminders of the fire that swept through the area pop up at unexpected moments, from an older woman (Joyce Payne) still rifling through the ashen belongings of her home in search of her pilot's license, to late visions of other victims entirely helpless to their circumstances and the ravages of mother nature. Are they really there? Does it matter? Either way, they've been forgottena fate Alvin and Lance do not want for themselves. It might not seem as if "Prince Avalanche" goes anywhere all that notable, but look closer. Sometimes, in particular situations and in times of need, having another person acknowledge, respect and like you can mean the world.