After a run of low-brow comedies that fans may have found a little disappointing, David Gordon Green – the writer and director of George Washington (2000) – seems to have made a return to more thoughtful filmmaking. His new film, Prince Avalanche (2013), may have the same potential trappings as his recent, more trivial outings, but has a lot more going on underneath – even if it never quite settles on what. Inspired by a visit to a state park in Texas which provides a wonderfully cinematic backdrop after being devastated by a forest fire, he was introduced to Icelandic comedy Either Way (2011) and decided to remake it.
Following the same plot as the Icelandic original, Prince Avalanche concerns two men, both in states of arrested development, working on revamping the highways and byways of the recently scorched park in the early eighties. Alvin (Paul Rudd) is a super-serious soul, a would-be outdoorsman who embraces the neighbouring wilds and is constantly penning letters of longing back to his sweetheart. Lance (Emile Hirsch) is the younger brother of said sweetheart, and is constantly looking forward to the weekends when he can drive back into town to “get the little man squeezed.” The duo drive along disused roads against the bleak and desolate landscape and attempt, with varying degrees of success, to get along.
For the most part, Gordon Green’s latest bromance plays out like a beautifully shot entry into the mumblecore canon, with two characters in both the physical and emotional wilderness with neither able to articulate themselves or their pain except through awkward exchanges. What underlines Prince Avalanche’s separation from that particular movement are the haunted overtones of the whole piece. Not only do their surroundings – exceptionally captured by regular DoP Tim Orr – evoke a ghostly quality, but there’s also the possibility (left suitably ambiguous) that Alvin and Lance encountered a wandering spectre on their travels.
Rudd and Hirsch are both commendable in their roles, each perhaps seeming slightly more comfortable when levity is introduced into proceedings than in the more introspective and melancholic moments. It’s in these contradictions that Prince Avalanche manages to both bewitch and confound. Those looking for a fun hour and half may be thrown off course by the haunted lands and minds; those hoping for the latter might find the humour somewhat abrasive. In the end, it feels as though Gordon Green was never entirely sure what type of film he wanted to make, and so it remains something of an enigma; interesting and engaging, if never quite fulfilling.