David Gordon Green returned to his indie roots last year with Prince Avalanche (2013) following a handful of Hollywood comedies. Based on Either Way (2011), an Icelandic film by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, it marks a significant departure in both style and substance from the likes of Pineapple Express (2008). Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are two men whose job it is to paint the lines down the middle of the winding rural roads of Texas after a 1988 forest fire. Alvin is dating Lance’s sister Madison (Lynn Shelton), and the two men veer between comfortable companionship and childish spats.
The conflict between them feels natural enough, but it’s the moments of camaraderie that work best. Costumed in identical blue overalls, with the taller, moustachioed Rudd often in a green t-shirt and the shorter and somewhat stouter Hirsch in red it is difficult not to read Prince Avalanche as a quasi-adaption of Super Mario Bros. Hirsch even wields a wrench at one point. Rudd, always the most amiable of that collection of actors and now well into his forties, wears Alvin’s melancholy with dignity, even if the film’s view of the character’s romantic misfortune is rather one-sided. Green and his cinematographer Tim Orr get a lot of mileage out of shooting the two actors clambering over and through the burnt-out forest.
Several of the strongest sequences are montages of Alvin wandering in solitude among the ashes, set to a soft, piano-led score by post-rock band Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo. When Alvin stumbles upon an elderly woman (Joyce Payne) sifting through the remains of her destroyed home, the film finds a soulfulness and a softness that the movie constantly strives for but only occasionally manages. The pleasant music and easygoing vibe of Prince Avalanche are very enticing, but there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot else going on. It’s when Green and his team hint at a deeper sadness and/or stronger elation that the film really excels. Unfortunately for his latest offering and its audience, these moments are all too infrequent.
David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche is released on DVD on 10 February through Metrodome Distribution.