Movie review: Good acting, emotional core elevate ‘Prince Avalanche’

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLEAugust 23, 2013 

Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd play existential Texas road painters in this offbeat comedy.

  • PRINCE AVALANCHE ***

    Rated: R for some sexual content. Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault. Director: David Gordon Green. Running time: 94 minutes. Theater: Flicks.

There’s plenty of absurd and deadpan humor, even slapstick, in “Prince Avalanche,” a minimalist tale of mismatched workers who paint lines on isolated Texas roads. But a melancholy undertone never lets us completely forget that filmmaker David Gordon Green has more serious matters in mind.

It’s the summer of 1988 and the two-man crew labors in a Samuel Beckett (“Waiting for Godot”) landscape, a part of central Texas barely starting to recover from a huge, deadly wildfire. At night they share a tent — there’s no one else around (only two other characters make brief appearances) and they are starting to get on each other’s nerves.

Alvin (Paul Rudd), the boss, is a compulsive type who enjoys nature and sees his job as a time for reflection about his life. He’s having problems with his girlfriend back home, with whom he exchanges letters.

His younger co-worker, Lance (Emile Hirsch), is a not-so-bright party animal considerably less taken with the great outdoors. He is also the girlfriend’s brother, and Alvin has hired him hoping to give him some direction in life.

The daily routine is marked by lots of comic bickering. Alvin has some intellectual pretensions, but he’s not as smart as he thinks. Still, he’s continually aghast at the “hey dude” mindset of his colleague, who at one point declares, “I get horny in nature.”

When Lance takes a weekend for some female companionship, Alvin relishes the solitude, even performing a droll dance while he’s fishing. He has an eerie encounter with an old woman (Joyce Payne) sifting through the ashes of her former home, searching for something tangible from her past.

Alvin returns to the campsite unhappy, and brings bad news for his co-worker. A brawl eventually takes place, after which they drown their sorrows with moonshine. (The booze is provided by the film’s only other character, a crusty old truck driver — nicely played by Lance LeGault. He also offers crackpot advice.) A glimmer of understanding starts to emerge between the two men.

Green started out directing some pretty good indie features (like “George Washington”) and later had mixed-to-poor results in Hollywood (“Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness”). “Prince Avalanche,” made quickly and cheaply, is in line with his earlier work.

He gets good performances from both principals, with Rudd particularly impressive both in his ability to pull off skewed comic moments and suggest the strains of anger and loneliness in his character.

The cinematography (from Tim Orr, who works regularly with Green) and the soundtrack (from Texas band Explosions in the Sky) also stand out.

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