Lance (Emile Hirsch, left) works with his sister’s boyfriend, Alvin (Paul Rudd), in “Prince Avalanche.”
‘PRINCE AVALANCHE’ ★★★
Alvin Paul Rudd
Lance Emile Hirsch
Magnolia Pictures presents a film written and directed by David Gordon Green. Running time: 94 minutes. Rated R (for some sexual content). Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.
Updated: September 17, 2013 7:37AM
Fans of indie auteur David Gordon Green’s early dramatic character studies should be pleased to hear that there’s much more of “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls” in this gently existentialist buddy movie than his mainstream studio efforts like “Pineapple Express.”
In fact, the seemingly randomly titled “Prince Avalanche” might seem like a complete return to the writer/director’s roots if it weren’t for the dialed-down presence of stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch — proof that Green has come a long way since his debut 13 years ago.
In this remake of the little-seen 2011 Icelandic film “Either Way,” Rudd and Hirsch play Alvin and Lance, a mismatched pair of highway workers repainting yellow lane dividers on what appears to be a deserted highway to nowhere. They’re somewhere in Texas in 1988. They’re all alone and nothing is in sight except the charred remains of a forest, burned by a wildfire the previous year and just beginning to come back to life.
When you see them, the first thing you’re likely to think of is Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and the second might be that they look a lot like the Super Mario Brothers in their blue overalls. Especially Rudd, as Alvin, debuting a disconcerting mustache.
Thirtysomething Alvin, a testy, superior sort, has been working there since spring as a time-out from a troubled relationship. He prefers to be alone and savors the monastic solitude of the job, but he hired the young, directionless Lance as a favor to his girlfriend, Lance’s sister. They do not get along. While Alvin opts for self-improving German lessons on their cassette player, Lance prefers heavy-metal rock. When Alvin encourages Lance to appreciate the trees, the sky, the animals and the silence, Lance says, “I get so horny out here in nature.”
“Prince Avalanche” continues as an exercise in mutual annoyance until Lance finally drives into town for a weekend seeking female companionship. What follows is a long interlude in which Alvin spends his time fishing, playing house in a burned-out home while imagining he’s talking to his girlfriend, and having a conversation with a distraught old woman (who may or may not be a ghost) as she sifts through the ashes of her former home. And then a major shift in their relationship occurs when Lance returns disgruntled after his failed romantic efforts.
At first, Alvin offers a bit of genuinely warm, avuncular consolation, until Lance hands over a letter from his sister, which leads to shock, intense argument, a physical altercation, then drunken bonding over the perfidies of women. That’s thanks to the booze provided by a hard-drinking old truck driver (Lance LeGault), who appears irregularly to get them sauced and pass along dubious advice about the opposite sex.
Green conveys all of this with minimal dialogue, relying on the actors to get most of the message across non-verbally. And they do that quite well, adapting themselves to the film’s slow, eccentric and reflective pace and mood. “Prince Avalance” is frequently funny in a subdued sort of way, but it’s primarily contemplative and eventually intimate. Alvin and Lance confront some hard truths about themselves (courtesy of their mutually scathing assessments of each other’s character flaws) and then seem to settle into the realization that the other guy isn’t so bad after all — and maybe they’re not either.
At the very least, it shows that those little yellow lines on the highway don’t paint themselves.
Bruce Ingram is a local free-lance writer.