Prince Avalanche (2013) Film.Director: David Gordon Green



The Guardian, Thursday 17 October 2013

David Gordon Green has one of the strangest careers of any director in modern Hollywood. Once hailed as a serious indie-arthouse film-maker in the vein of Terrence Malick, he switched to broad comedy and stoner comedy, claiming a fratpack alliance with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Could there be any middle ground in his utterly different styles? Well, yes, sort of: his new film is a down-at-heel road movie about a couple of gloomy guys employed to paint yellow lines down the middle of a new asphalt road in a Texan national park. Paul Rudd plays Alvin, notionally the boss, and Emile Hirsch is Lance, whose sister Alvin happens to be dating – which is the focus of excruciating tension between the two men. It is a remake of an Icelandic movie from 2011 called Either Way; the enigmatic title of this new film reportedly came to the director in a dream. It is an oddity, an indulgence, neither very funny nor very serious, and with an unfinished feel; the characterisation for both men is underdeveloped. Prince Avalanche is mildly interesting but its promise never leads anywhere, like a sketch for a first act of a more substantial film by Hal Ashby or Bob Rafelson., Thursday 24 January 2013

The best reason to see this misconceived film is its location – Bastrop state park in central Texas, which was devastated by wildfires just before shooting began. Blackened trees lend the landscape an apocalyptic feel as skunks feed on armadillo carcasses and deer forage for the first buds of regeneration.

Against this desolate but beautiful backdrop, we meet two lonely road-maintenance workers spending the summer of 1988 painting yellow divider lines. Alvin (Paul Rudd) is in a shaky relationship with the sister of Lance (Emile Hirsch), who is getting fed up with the rural isolation and is keen to get back to the city to “get the little man squeezed”. They meet an elderly trucker who plies them with moonshine and wacky advice. When Lance sneaks home one weekend to meet a woman, Alvin encounters a mysterious older woman. She later seems to be the trucker’s girlfriend, although he claims not to see her. Apart from that, not much happens. A lengthy scene of Alvin setting up camp and hanging in a hammock is scored to increasingly ominous music, but with no payoff.

An hour in, the film seemed less like a remake of the Icelandic film Either Way than a subtle reworking of Waiting for Godot. The parallels were clear: Alvin and Lance as Vladimir and Estragon, the outsiders wandering in search of some higher direction, with the clownish trucker and his supernatural girlfriend as Pozzo and Lucky. In Godot, the characters are trying “to hold the terrible silence at bay”; in Prince Avalanche, Alvin screams: “Can we just enjoy the silence?”

But no one could accuse the film-makers of trying to emulate Beckett’s linguistic or philosophical depth. Fratboy humour is rife: the line that got the most laughs was Alvin’s disconsolate report about the second half of his sexy weekend in the city: “It was Sunday, so there was no chance of pussy, ‘cos everyone was at church.”

Director David Gordon Green was last at Sundance five years ago with Snow Angels, a drama starring Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell. Green’s inarticulate, lost characters are the soft backbone of mumblecore, and their increasingly intimate relationship suggests bromantic comedy, in the vein of Sideways. But then he throws in the dissonant elements of a ghost story; in one arbitrary sally into Peter Greenaway territory, Cyrillic text appears over a cluster of dead trees, spelling out “I love you so much”.

The performances disappoint. Rudd, a comedic actor who is terrific in the new Judd Apatow film This Is 40, tries vainly to prove he can “do serious”, scowling and fretting like a cut-price Ben Affleck. Hirsch, no stranger to solitude after his towering performance in Into the Wild, nobly plays his lines straight.

As for the film’s title, it’s a mystery – there’s no snow or royalty to be seen.