Director David Gordon Green makes his way back to the indie world that gave him his start, years before “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness” turned his head with “Prince Avalanche. The comically dry dramedy smoothly fits into the career that produced “All the Real Girls,” “Undertow” and “Snow Angels.”
It’s a “Waiting for Godot” set in the solitary work and lives of two highway line-painters. Alvin (Paul Rudd) is troubled, in the wilderness of a recently-burned out forest in a remote corner of Texas to “reap the rewards of solitude.” Lance (Emile Hirsch) is Alvin’s girlfriend’s chatty, nervous brother, an aimless skirt-chaser in need of a job and some focus in life.
And when the film begins, more than six minutes pass before they exchange a word. They paint fresh lines on a scorched road and glue down reflectors in between the lines. Alvin insists they listen to Portuguese language tapes on their boom box as they do, and Lance rebels.
“What about the ‘equal time’ agreement?”
“I’m the boss, here.”
Alvin narrates through the long letters he writes to girlfriend Madison, the mother of his child and the woman who “needed some space.” Lance, when he’s not goofing off, chatters colorfully and crudely about women, about what he’ll do the next time he’s “in town,” and about his sister.
Day after day, this is their routine — striking camp (Alvin does the work), loading the forest service Jeep, painting more lines and gluing more reflectors, then pitching the tent further down the road.
Talk about minimalism. It’s no surprise that this is based on a Scandinavian story.
The big interruptions come from an aged, crusty truck driver (Lance LeGault), who stops, pontificates, offers sodas, booze and even a cigar to the lads.
“You know what? You shouldn’t smoke,” he lectures Alvin.
“I know — it’s bad for you.”
“No, I mean YOU shouldn’t smoke. You look stupid.”
Rudd beautifully gets across a guy who is all pent-up angst, struggling to take a working vacation, to get into the zen of a menial job and forget the crisis in his personal life. Hirsch doesn’t have to strain to convey a dopey kid looking for shortcuts, for creature comforts, vices and women. Yeah, we can believe they get on each other’s nerves.
“Prince Avalanche” is a meditative picture of random moments — birds that must be chased out of the Jeep, an old woman (Joyce Payne) rummaging through the burned out ruins of what must have been her house.
“Past tense. Everything’s past tense, now.”
The scorched Earth — only now turning green — is a vision of Purgatory, where Alvin must come to grips with who he is and what has happened to his future, and where the “never will amount to anything” Lance has to figure out how much of his self-esteem is a myth he preaches to others and how much is genuine worth.
Green used to make movies that were worth mulling over even if they never earned a dime, and that’s very much the case with the offbeat and deadpan “Prince Avalanche.” This film festival favorite is a grand exercise in how much the viewer can read into a piece of stark, well-acted minimalism, and how much a very smart filmmaker can get away without saying.
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content.
Cast: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault
Credits: Written and directed by David Gordon Greene adapted from a Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson story (original story). A Magnolia release
Running time: 1:33