Prince Avalanche

After making a trio of successful independent dramas set in wonderfully photographed Southern U.S. locales, director David Gordon Green moved into directing stoner comedies for studios, for reasons that puzzled film fans everywhere. He’s back to his earlier filmmaking style with the quietly funny and dramatic Prince Avalanche, a film about two men who walk down the long and lonely road while painting the dividing lines that separate the sides. The year is 1988, the location is Texas after the Bastrop County Complex fire, and the tone is often melancholic.

The two men are Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch). Alvin is an older romantic and is dating Lance’s sister, which is why the younger and more carefree Lance was given the job in the first place. The two work hard days and then take the weekend off. Lance heads into town while Alvin camps and takes time for himself. He writes letters to Lance’s sister, who is never seen. He fishes. You can see and feel a quiet loneliness to him. Lance claims to be having a great time in town but then complains about trivial and childish things.

This is a talkative movie and its topics are all over the place. When all you have is one other person and a whole road over which you can discuss your life, nothing is off-limits — except for sensitive areas for both characters, which do wind up getting mentioned and cause tempers to boil — which means that the film and the people behind it can essentially have a character tell the audience exactly what they’re thinking at any given point.

Prince Avalanche works primarily as a film about these two characters learning to grow up, even though they’re both well into their adult life — Alvin more so, sure, but sometimes he’s the least mature of the two. There’s a real truth to a lot of this movie, and as its characters slowly reveal themselves to each other and to us, you can see the development happening. The characters don’t grow a whole lot but it’s enough to keep them interesting and in a low-key film like this, large changes in life don’t need to happen.

There isn’t a lot to the plot of the film, but that’s okay. It gives Alvin and Lance time to talk, fight, make up, and laugh. They are occasionally joined by a truck driver (Lance LeGault) who randomly shows up to give them life lessons whenever he passes by them — this being the only road on which he drives, apparently. And a woman whose house was burned up in the fire also gets a few scenes. According to the internet, she, Joyce Payne, wasn’t originally scripted to appear but she actually lost her house in a fire and while she might not be “acting” as a result, her character is fascinating and you’d think it the work of a strong actor.

While it’s not properly going to be classified as a comedy, there are scatterings of humor to be found in Prince Avalanche. Some of it is more obvious, while other times you’ll catch it later on, or if you watch it again. Earlier scenes are funnier in retrospect, too. The later reveals also make you re-evaluate what you’ve just seen.

For instance, a relatively early moment in the film has Lance whining about not being able to “score” the previous weekend, which comes across as childish and really doesn’t make you like him as a character. We later find out that there was more to the story. I figured there would be something more, but not what the film winds up throwing our way. There aren’t a lot of twists, per se, but the characters learn more about one another, and feel more comfortable sharing deeper feelings, as the film progresses.

Prince Avalanche is based on an Icelandic film, Either Way, which you haven’t and won’t see. I mention it so that you’re aware this isn’t an original script and also because there might be one of you who sees this film and wants to check out the original. It’s ultimately irrelevant; this is David Gordon Green’s film, and it takes him both him and us back to the filmmaker’s early roots — a place I’m happy to see him revisit. The wonderful landscape, the quiet humor, the strong drama, and the slightly shocking reveals are all here.

Also included is some strong acting. Paul Rudd is mostly known for being a comedic actor, but he’s branched out into drama and in Prince Avalanche he might have turned in his best performance. He’s playing a complex individual here, and some of the later scenes are truly wonderful. Emile Hirch reminds us of the man who starred in Into the Wild, simply with pure talent. He gains weight and becomes a schlub here, and it’s a pretty great transformation.

Prince Avalanche is unlikely to leave a huge mark on anyone’s life, but for a quiet and beautiful movie about two lonely people traveling down the road together, it makes for strong drama and a few decent laughs. The characters are given ample time to talk, fight, and grow, and the script gives them plenty of opportunity to state whatever opinion on any subject the filmmakers feel like mentioning. It’s not heavy on plot but it’s got enough going on that it’s never boring. Prince Avalanche is worth checking out.

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