Craig's First Take: "Prince Avalanche"

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An odd couple of sorts, meditative and stern Alvin (Paul Rudd) and his girlfriend’s brother, Lance (Emile Hirsch), dopey and insecure, leave the city behind to spend the summer in solitude repainting traffic lines down the center of a country highway ravaged by wildfire. As they sink into their job in the remarkable landscape, they learn more than they want to about each other and their own limitations.
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You can tell from the outset that the film career of David Gordon Green is going to be unpredictable. The first phase of his career was soulful dramas like “Undertow”, “George Washington”, and “All the Real Girls”, a far cry from the pot-jokes (“Pineapple Express”), Dungeons and Dragons inspired crudity (“Your Highness”), and unconventionally awful babysitting (“The Sitter”) that defined most of his work with Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, and Jonah Hill. He could have just kept riding the big Hollywood wave, but “Prince Avalanche” is a different animal all together.

It brings him back to his independent roots and even though it’s a film that seems to symbolize more than it explains, it manages to be solid due to some very nice acting work by Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. They play Alvin and Lance, a two person road crew setting up yellow lines that has taken them into the secluded part of the country where they camp out in the forest at night. Lance loves the solitude, where he takes the time to learn German and obsess about his girlfriend, Lance’s sister. Lance is more a city boy, overeager to meet the next girl who will be his romantic conquest.

The film takes place in 1988 (i’m wondering if I’m the only one who thinks these guys look like Super Mario Brothers in their overalls and blue and green shirts), a year after 43,000 acres and 1,600 homes were destroyed by wildfires in Texas. Blackened trees and the occasional burned down cottage (an older woman recounting the memories of her now-destroyed home is very moving) serve as a backdrop which mirrors the personal hell for both men.

Rudd plays Alvin as a straitlaced guy whose love for solitude may be causing some mental cracks while Hirsch displays a youthful antsiness in Lance, an irresponsibility that at this point in his life he doesn’t seem to get isn’t charming anymore. These guys are in this barren place, talking, usually regarding love and sex, but hiding their deeper emotions for much of the film. It makes for slow-going, but Rudd and Hirsch make for a likable pair and the last half hour or so leads to interesting events that finally bubble to the surface.

There are questions here, like what’s up with the seemingly ghostly old lady? And what is Green trying to say with this shot of nature or that shot of an actor? And of course you wonder where the story is going as well. Adapted from an Icelandic film called “Either Way”, I saw this as a dramady about two men who in the end have some emotional things to work through on their way towards achieving real love. Both actors help greatly but it may just be a bit too slow and much of the film too lacking for most viewers.