David Gordon Green returns to his austere film making roots with Prince Avalanche seasoned by, I guess, Your Highness and The Sitter. I must say I am very happy he has made a departure from those treasures. Starring Paul Rudd as Alvin and Emile Hirsch as Lance, Prince Avalanche is quite the literal road movie. Set in Texas at the Bastrop State Forest during the summer of 1987 after a devastating wild fire ravaged the area, Alvin and Lance work for the county painting yellow lines on the main road of the park and camping along the way. Alvin is the mature, close to nature, forthright one where Lance is the impatient, anxious-to-get-laid, prodigal of the two. Their almost opposite sensibilities play very humorously off each other with Rudd exhibiting his standard and much appreciated playfulness as Alvin. Hirsch reveals a funny side quite different from the emaciated youth with the weight of the world on his shoulders we saw in Into the Wild.
We are partly carried through the story by the same letter narration that worked in Bottle Rocket as Alvin writes to his girlfriend who is also Lance’s sister. Alvin lectures his frustrations out on Lance, whereas Lance sees Alvin’s philosophies on life as disenfranchising. Of course a bond is formed against all odds. Lance’s sister breaks up with Alvin along the way. Although, as Lance points out, who can blame her? She needs him, and he has decided to go off for the summer to paint road lines and revel in solitude. Meanwhile Lance struggles with being on the cusp of real adulthood where the sophomoric hijinks he’s used to have taken on a certain dullness replaced by the fear of impending maturity.
One of the only four actors we see through the entire film is Lance Legault who plays an amusing old cowboy also working for the parks and rec. department. He stops by to visit and share booze with the two on several occasions in the film. I give credit to my wife on this, because I felt Legault’s character represented something symbolic since there are a couple of possibly surreal moments where he’s not seeing something that Alvin and Lance and the audience can clearly see; I wasn’t sure what. As my wife suggested, maybe he represents caution to Alvin and Lance; that they can become blind to what is important around them if they continue to ignore it. Works for me. This film carries a lot of symbolism, which makes sense because it is a remake of an Icelandic film called Either Way, and those Icelanders love good symbolism.
All in all, Prince Avalanche was a simple story that simply made me feel good. It had its disappointing aspects, like an abrupt ending just before something that would have been awesome to see happened, but its austerity was kind of the point. I appreciate that. Still, Hirsch and Rudd have a great energy, and it would have been nice to see that explored more. There’s something that makes me believe that Green’s characters live in the same universe as Noah Baumbach’s, but Greens’ are much, much more down to earth. I believe Green works with a fundamental belief that people are inherently decent, as opposed to what I infer from Baumbach— a sense that people are profoundly fucked up and the human condition is painful.
I like Green’s outlook better. His characters often find their goodness reminiscent of a Horton Foote play. One of my favorite scenes is when Alvin stumbles upon the ashes of a house. He encounters the owner, and she gives a brief bio of herself as she is looking for a memento most assuredly lost. It is such an utterly real moment between the two; Alvin listening, and trying to understand the personal aftermath of something like this, and the woman who isn’t sure what to do now that everything has been taken away from her.
Gems like these and the camera-as audience are at the core of the David Gordon Green aesthetic, slowly tugging at our heartstrings with subtlety delivered hilariousness, and the delicate sides of harsh environments.