The way most press screenings work is that you know what you’re getting before the film starts. There’s a few drinks to start, some canapés if you’re lucky, then someone offers you the press notes. These notes are essentially a ‘this is what the film’s really about’ guide. Plot, themes, character motivations. If you’re lucky for a second time, the author of these notes will throw in a choice word or two. I’m still smiling from the use of the word ‘Sisyphean’ for the John Cena film 12 Rounds about five years ago.
But what these press notes mean is that, in a world where it’s hard to go in blind to a new film, there’s one last opportunity to ruin the surprise. Which a lot of people do. They’ll cheerfully leaf through the notes, quite happy to find out a little more about a film that’s mere minutes from starting. And it’s not just press screenings – the internet is the world’s equivalent of press notes. Everyone can find out exactly what they’re watching before they sit down. Unless it’s a JJ Abrams film, maybe.
Prince Avalanche is the type of film that rewards those who don’t do this. It’s a surprise waiting to happen. It’s actually benefited from a promotional campaign that’s been low key to say the least.
This is the bit of the review where I’m supposed to tell you what the film’s about, but it’s better that I don’t. Or that I do it in as few words as possible. So here goes: Prince Avalanche is the type of film you’d imagine Terrence Malick would make if he wanted to make a bromance. Only it’s not quite that.
Prince Avalanche doesn’t make for easy pigeon-holing. It’s funny, touching, meandering, meditative, absurd. And yet never jarring. Writer-director David Gordon Green’s early work (George Washington, All The Real Girls) marked him out as the indie scene’s new auteur, before he confounded expectations with comedies such as Pineapple Express and The Sitter. He’s found the balance that allows both those seemingly divergent career paths to sit happily alongside each other here. And he starts with the casting of Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch.
He lets Rudd dial down the ‘exasperated straight man’ comedy, and gets Hirsch to lighten up in what feels like his first comedic role since 2004’s The Girl Next Door. It’s a wonderful partnership, and an important one at that – Prince Avalanche is essentially a two hander, a Rudd and Hirsch buddy road movie that doesn’t play like most buddy road movies. It’s set against the backdrop of a wildfire-ravaged Texas wilderness, a nightmare scenario of homes lost and lives destroyed and yet made almost dreamlike by Green.
Scenes are littered with exaggerated slow motion (that trippy, slow-mo interlude in Pineapple Express is merely a jumping-off point here), used not as a means to heighten tension but quite the opposite. Green’s slow motion captures aimlessness rather than action. Two men charged with giving direction to others (their job is painting road markings on a near deserted stretch of road) and yet lacking any themselves.
But what’s great about Prince Avalanche is that it’s never just one thing. Serious and touching one minute as we encounter real life stories of people left homeless and alone, absurd the next as Rudd (dressed like a Super Mario Brother) embarks on the funniest chase scene I’ve ever seen. It’s backed by a terrific score by Explosions in the Sky and Green’s regular collaborator David Wingo that makes the film’s images stay with you long after you’ve seen them. And it’s peppered with some of the most surreal and brilliant lines of dialogue.
But, like most things in Prince Avalanche, trying to communicate how good they are won’t do them justice. It’s much easier for me to tell you: go see it. Buy the soundtrack. Enjoy.
Prince Avalanche is out in selected UK cinemas now.
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