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Indie Snapshot: Prince Avalanche

by Ethan Alter August 9, 2013 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>Prince Avalanche</i>

Fans of David Gordon Green’s early features like George Washington and All the Real Girls have been hoping for some time now that the writer/director would end his dalliance with Hollywood -- a dalliance that yielded the widely-liked Pineapple Express, the widely-misunderstood Your Highness and the widely-ignored The Sitter -- and return to the indie world from whence he came. That particular prayer has now been answered; although it stars two familiar Hollywood faces, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, Green’s newest film Prince Avalanche is otherwise the kind of small-scale slice-of-life regional story that defined the first part of Green’s career. It also happens to be the least interesting film he’s ever made, so the moral is be careful what you wish for, I guess.

A chamber piece set that turns the great outdoors into a confined, claustrophobic space, Prince Avalanche casts Rudd and Hirsch as a pair of highway construction workers, repairing a stretch of bad road in Texas in the summer of 1988. Alvin (Rudd) does this kind of work often, partly because he needs the money, but also because it allows him to escape the responsibilities of adulthood, specifically in the relationships-with-the-opposite-sex department. To that point, his co-worker, Lance (Hirsch), is actually the brother of his girlfriend, who he hired as a favor to the woman he professes to love, yet feels the need to be away from when the opportunity arises. Where Alvin spends his time in the wilderness trying to find ways to better himself (whether that’s writing letters or mastering French via language tapes), Lance is just killing time until he can take his weekly wages and spend it all at the watering hole in the closest town. Like all odd couple comedies, the film begins with the two of them at odds and then depicts the way they’re able to bridge the gap that divides them, a task made more complicated by the fact that Lance’s sister has up and dumped Alvin’s ass via a “Dear John” letter that causes his carefully-constructed worldview to come crashing down.

When you’re spending 90 minutes in the company of just two people, those two people had better be damn interesting, but I’m sorry to say that Alvin and Lance simply aren’t, more closely resembling pencil sketches rather than fully-animated characters. And while Rudd and Hirsh generate a few moments of comic chemistry together, neither of them inhabits their character in a compelling, believable way. More often than not, both men are swallowed up by the Texas scenery, which is more dramatic than anything happening in the foreground. Frankly, the male friendships at the center of both Pineapple Express and Your Highness were both more nuanced -- and a lot funnier -- than the one depicted in Avalanche, despite those movies’ big-budget trappings. Prince Avalanche may be smaller than the films he’s been making recently, but it isn’t better.

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