This review was originally published on January 31, 2013…
One of the weirdest directorial turns I can think of is how David Gordon Green went from the simple yet gorgeous, impressionistic but deeply intimate style of filmmaking he showed with his first few films (“George Washington,” “All the Real Girls”) to making pretty uneven and broad comedies like “Your Highness” and “The Sitter.” I mean, I get it, a man’s gotta eat. But in a world where everyone thinks filmmakers care what their fans want them to do, I think all us fans of Green’s early works were hoping he’d adopt a “one for them, one for me” kind of mentality. That is to say, one big budget, ball-smacking, bong-toking comedy for the studios and then one smaller, more intimate film for himself and his fans. This has yet to happen, but with his latest film, “Prince Avalanche,” we’ve almost got the original David Gordon Green back.
“Prince Avalanche” is a very simple period piece (circa 1988) about Alvin and Lance (Rudd, Hirsch), two men working long weeks refurbishing some Texas roads after a huge wildfire tore through a mountain. Alvin is Lance’s brother-in-law, or at least was, as he and his wife are estranged. The two men work all day drawing yellow lines on the toasted roads and replacing reflectors before setting up a camp for the night, only to awaken bright and early the next day to do it all over again. Alvin loves the solidarity of nature and the peace it brings him while Lance is going a bit stir crazy in the great wide open. The two men are on incredibly different wavelengths but as the film goes on, they gradually move towards middle ground.
“Prince Avalanche” is an odd little movie. The changes that occur for the characters are huge but played off so simply, it almost renders them small. Alvin is more worldly but his ego runs roughshod over poor Lance, who just wants to work, go home for the weekend, get drunk and get lucky. While Alvin puts on phony airs of maturity, Lance remains a boy in a young man’s body. But as the film goes on, each guy starts to learn a little bit from the other and a fragile bond is formed.
This film is shot and acted beautifully. Green takes his time with many shots in Nature and also does a great job with his two leads which are pretty much the only two people in the film, save for some comic and cosmic relief that show up here and there. Rudd, as always, owns the screen and can make you laugh with a simple gesture or look. His arrogance is so false you can’t help but feel bad for Lance who’s stuck in the boondocks with this guy.
Emile Hirsch plays Lance as a simpleton stoner who acts like he’s a go with the flow kind of person but reality is clearly crashing in around him. And together, they’re a funny odd couple. But I wouldn’t call “Prince Avalanche” a comedy. Rather, it’s a well-done character study about two men at very different crossroads in their lives. You want both to succeed which is a testament to Green’s ability to create and direct characters who are basically annoying and unlikable. But by the end of the film, I was genuinely pulling for them to get their acts together.
While not a perfect film (it tends to drag in places which is odd considering it’s short run time) I really enjoyed “Prince Avalanche.” And again, it’s not a total return to form for Green, but it’s close. The comedy here fits the situations and is somewhat small and better constructed. Definitely not a knee-slapping, laugh out-loud riot, and that suited me fine. “Prince Avalanche” is a slow build and burn (no pun intended) and I felt the many sides of David Gordon Green’s filmmaking. Now, about that supposed “Suspiria” remake…