David Gordon Green has enjoyed an eclectic filmmaking career thus far, emerging initially as a director with arthouse/indie leanings – assayed in films such as All the Real Girls, Undertow and Snow Angels – before making the leap into more commercial fare with stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness. With his latest effort, Prince Avalanche, Green looks to be aiming somewhere in the middle ground with a film that has been described as ‘Dumb and Dumber for the highbrow set’, a somewhat trite but not altogether inaccurate summation of what is, on the surface, a very slight narrative. A road movie of sorts, Prince Avalanche tracks the travails of Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch), two misfits charged with painting line markings and installing guide posts on a stretch of road through a Texas national park ravaged by bush fires the previous year.
A remake of a 2011 Icelandic release titled Either Way, the film is very much a two-hander with Rudd and Hirsch – both of whom are great – spending most of their time on screen doing very little. The drudgery of their work and their incessant bickering is pretty much all we get form them, interspersed with some beautiful and, at times, heartbreaking images of the damage cast upon the landscape by the fires. Alvin is the smart, hard-working loner who takes his job seriously, while Lance is immature, sex obsessed and lazy. The connection between the two men comes from the fact that Alvin is dating Lance’s sister Madison, albeit from afar, even refusing to go home for the weekend when the opportunity arises. The 1980’s setting allows for some quaint narrative elements, such as Alvin sending money and letters to Madison via the post rather than using text messaging or electronic banking as would be the case today.
The two men work, they argue and they camp in the woods at the end of each day. It doesn’t sound like much and, in fact, the film really only reaches feature length because of the various cutaways of the flora, fauna and families that are attempting to re-establish themselves in the charred landscape. However, it kinda works and both characters possess a certain level of likeability despite the fact they are both quite clueless when it comes to finding their way in the world. The sedate, melancholic mood is punctuated at various times with moments of mirth, several of which are laugh-out-loud funny. However, the most powerful scene is one in which Alvin stumbles across a woman named Joyce Payne amidst the remains of her house, one of the hundreds destroyed by the fires. By all reports, Payne is a real-life fire survivor and the rubble represented what was left of her actual house, which makes this moment even more poignant.
When Lance returns from a weekend in the city with bad news for Alvin, the relationship between the pair initially disintegrates until a drunken bonding session ultimately brings them closer together. The undisputed highlights of the film are the visits from an unnamed truck driver, hilariously played by Lance LeGault, who sadly passed away late last year. These scenes are great even if they don’t really serve much purpose in the overall scheme of things, other than providing a mechanism by which Alvin and Lance procure the alcohol that brings them together. Ultimately, both men have big decisions to make and are forced to ponder their lives – past, present and future – as they prepare to head back into the real world.
Yes, there are plenty childish insults and puerile moments that involve farting, scratching and masturbating that might seem more akin to Green’s most recent films and, yes, there are also some slapstick moments that are staged very well, but there is no doubting the art house credentials of the film. The pace is slow and the overall tone is more aligned with Gus van Sant’s Gerry or anything from the likes of Terence Malick. In other words, this is exactly the type of film you expect to encounter at a film festival and I am glad that I did.