Any movie starring either Paul Rudd or Emile Hirsch gets my attention, so when both actors decided to co-lead David Gordon Green’s newest film, the independent to its roots Prince Avalanche, I was almost positive that this would be on my list for this year’s must-sees at the Tribeca Film Festival. Throw in a soundtrack scored by Explosions in the Sky and my attendance was like what Daphne Zuniga was to John Cusack in that Rob Reiner movie from 1985, a sure thing.
Prince Avalanche tells the story of two men hired to repaint the lines on a country highway in Texas one summer shortly after it is ravaged by wildfire. Alvin (Rudd) is a contemplative, yet simple man who takes himself too seriously as he spends his summer trying to prove his manhood to himself and his girlfriend.
Lance (Hirsch), the brother of Alvin’s girlfriend, is a younger man who seems to be the polar opposite of Alvin: unserious, concerned only with when he will next have sex and immature. Rather predictably, when the film begins Alvin and Lance do not really get along with each other; instead they merely tolerate one another. As the film continues, again rather predictably, the pair forms an unlikely bond with each other as well as their landscape. Coming to a head when Alvin receives word that his girlfriend is leaving him, the two men learn to come to terms with themselves while working out their semi-strange friendship, ultimately bonding in a way we never thought possible.
As the film progressed, I realized it was just not their friendship that could be categorized as semi-strange. A remake of an Icelandic film entitled Either Way, Prince Avalanche is marked by this very definitive feeling of (semi)strangeness. I spent the entire film trying to figure out just why Green decided to make this film. I do not mean to say that Prince Avalanche is a bad film. It is not. It is just a kind of weird one.
That is, I am still not sure that anything of real significance transpired among the characters, which would be fine had the movie not contained such a serious air. It seems that at every turn, every interaction, every long shot of the blackened, ravaged landscape the film screams, “Hey, take me seriously!” But each of these screams is met with a moment of insignificance.
Maybe this is the point, but if it is it still left me a little on edge for the first part of the film. Just when was this serious thing going to happen? Once I accepted though, that hyper-seriousness was not in Prince Avalanche’s future, I was free to enjoy it.
Now that my one big qualm with Prince Avalanche is out of the way, I can get into the elements that were great. First, these serious, yet seemingly insignificant moments are coupled with moments of true hilarity. About a half hour into the film, I had about given up on the possibility of laughs, but I am pleased to report I was happily surprised by these instances that evoked hearty laughs from me. Sure, these moments contributed to the “semi-strange” feeling of the film and led to me to wonder if I was watching a comedic drama or a dramatic comedy, but either way it did not matter. These laughs were real and increased exponentially.
Second, Prince Avalanche boasts beautiful cinematography. The ravaged scenery is so well shot and highlighted that it takes on its own character as it often does in Westerns, a genre that relies so heavily on landscape that it is in its title (the western country). While these shots of the grand, sweeping landscapes and the minute, detailed individual elements of the scenery add to the strangeness of the film and feel a little out of place at times, it would be difficult to deny these images’ beauty and sublime-ness. They fill the movie so much that I suspect Green, like me, might find the backdrop more complex than the film’s subjects, who he rarely focuses on with as much intensity as he does with a moulded piece of wood.
Similarly (and third for those of you keeping track at home) the soundtrack is excellent. While I would be forced to gawk at you if you told me you expected anything less from a soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky, I do think there is a time and a place for an Explosions in the Sky soundtrack. Apparenty Green shares my opinion. The ephemeral, beautiful music is perfectly coupled with the detailed shots of scenery
Finally and perhaps most importantly, it would be a grave mistake to overlook the fact that David Gordon Green cast Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as the film’s two leads. These two people are why Prince Avalanche was even on my radar and to be honest, were the only reasons I went to see this film so early on. Fortunately, Rudd and Hirsch do not disappoint. They become their characters so thoroughly that, after leaving the theater, I was convinced that I had somehow missed just how serious Paul Rudd had been all these years.
More than just the good acting, the two actors also have great chemistry. Yes, their friendship is mismatched, which is the point of the film. But after 94 minutes of onscreen bonding, the audience left understanding just why the two characters were friends. Sure, this must have something to do with the drunken, debauchery-ridden bonding scene during which they spray paint yellow lines all over the street. But that scene would not have had nearly as great of an effect if the audience did not believe the two were friends in real life.
While this is not really a quality either actor can control or maybe is not the case in real life, I felt as if they were actually friends and that is all that matters. The characters were so likeable apart and together that watching this film about the oddly serious situations proved quite enjoyable. If any other actors played the two leads, I am not sure Prince Avalanche would have the same effect.
All in all, I enjoyed Prince Avalanche (starting off the Tribeca Film Festival right!). David Gordon Green succeeds in stepping outside of his latest slew of getting-high movies, such as Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter and gives us a film that is both incredibly beautiful to look at and captivating. I would not classify Prince Avalanche as a perfect film (no, I did not learn the meaning of life, etc.), but it is a good one. Plus, my laughs were real! In this day and age you do not get that in just any film.
Den of Geek Rating: 3 Out of 5 Stars