REVIEW: Prince Avalanche [2013]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 94 minutes | Release Date: August 9th, 2013 (USA)
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Director(s): David Gordon Green
Writer(s): David Gordon Green / Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson (based on the film Either Way)

“Sometimes I feel like I’m digging in my own ashes”

The film Prince Avalanche proves to be the perfect segue for writer/director David Gordon Green to circle back to the independent scene after three studio comedies with varying degrees of success took him on a polar opposite route. I was glad to see his trademark dramatic edge remained intact while watching his latest Joe at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, but rediscovering it post-Your Highness and The Sitter couldn’t have been an easy transition despite taking a year off from directing in between. That’s where this little gem comes in: a 65-page script shot in 16 days for only $725,000, kept secret until completion so Green’s journey to Sundance could avoid the media blitz his leaving Danny McBride behind for the melancholic beauty of quiet emotion we remembered would have provided.

Adapted from a minimalistic Icelandic film entitled Either Way by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, Green was inspired to rework the story after Texas-based band Explosions in the Sky proposed the Arkansas-born director write something about the 2011 wildfires in Bastrop County. Rather than use that setting, however, the choice to go back to 1988 was made so the script could follow two highway workers as they spend a summer cleaning up a central Texas town’s forest roads after the previous year’s fires raged through an approximate 43,000 acres, destroying 1,600 homes and taking four lives. It’s a story looking to separate the concepts of isolation and loneliness, pitting an overly mature/type-A personality in Alvin (Paul Rudd) opposite his girlfriend’s brother Lance’s (Emile Hirsch) easygoing free spirit with little attention span or initial desire for the job’s unavoidable solitude.

The sparse drama is not without some goofy fun, providing Green both of his disparate cinematic universes to win him a Silver Bear for directing at Sundance and gain a devout following with a slew of end-of-year Top Ten list mentions. Whether Green’s soft touch on the script, his ability to procure complex performances from his stars, or his 80s filter shining with Hirsch’s socks, Rudd’s glasses, and their cassette tape-playing boom-box, Prince Avalanche depicts a nondescript patch of nature yet perfectly transports us to the era at hand. Add a hilarious supporting role from the late Lance LeGault as a sort of drunken sage truck driver and Joyce Payne’s sadness at playing herself rummaging through what’s left of her fire-ravaged home and we’re made to see life through its joys and sorrows.

Explosions in the Sky remain attached through their very un-Explosions in the Sky score to give everything a quirky lilt to bookend the tempestuous middle with light-hearted humor. When we meet Alvin and Lance they have just begun their work painting lines, digging posts, and mounting reflectors. There is some slight tension courtesy of their very different work ethics, but they do their jobs and wait for the coming weekend to furnish some camping relaxation and potential town romance respectively. We learn Alvin has been taking these jobs to support his girlfriend and child while Lance joins as a result of the family hoping he may stumble upon the definition of responsibility and what it means to be a man. They’ve joined together to find themselves and better themselves for their inevitable return to society.

Things go awry once they meet up for their second week, however, as Lance returns forlorn from his partying and an unprepared Alvin receives a letter from home. The former’s casual life of fun and frivolity gets slammed by fate’s cruel hand of disappointment while the latter’s methodically idyllic world is shattered due to the exact thing he hoped would make it stronger. What was friendly ribbing and easy smiles turns into anger-fueled bouts of temper not to be quelled until the red washes away and re-exposes the compassionate humanity both possess at their core. We watch them evolve in a very short period of time, dense with unwanted ends and surprising beginnings for their personal lives and friendship together. The charred ashes surrounding them only help strengthen the themes of rebirth and optimism amidst tragedy on display.

Hirsch is at his most Jack Black-like here with crazy eyes embracing the chaotic path his character is inclined to forge. His Lance is a ego-heavy dreamer unable to understand the concept of humility and quick to retreat inside himself when faced by difficult problems. Rudd on-the-other-hand—despite retaining a wealth of his usual comedy—shares a serious side we frankly haven’t seen enough of during his career. He hits the deeper points with an authenticity and struggle inside his soul, contorting into aggression when called upon devoid of any insincerity our preconceptions may assume. Both prove up to the challenge of grabbing our attention for 90-minutes, entertaining us as they shine a light on what it means to be alive for oneself before finding the strength to allow another along for the ride.

[1] Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in PRINCE AVALANCHE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[2] Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in PRINCE AVALANCHE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[3] Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in PRINCE AVALANCHE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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