The year is 1988. The place is a rural stretch of Texas highway, recently ravaged by wildfire. And the protagonists are two road workers faced with the task of repainting the yellow lines down the middle of the road.
David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche is an odd little film. Paul Rudd plays Alvin, the uptight but romantic boss of the two-man road crew. Equipped with wilderness skills and an appreciation for the centrality of solitude, Alvin embraces his time in the great outdoors, composing long missives to his girlfriend Madison in which he muses on the beauty and tranquility of Mother Nature. Emile Hirsch plays Madison's dimwitted little brother Lance, a sex-obsessed party animal who's less enamored with wonders of nature and more interested in going into town to get laid.
Sporting overalls (and in Rudd's case, a fantastic mustache), the odd couple work, bicker, and eventually bond over the course of their menial summer job. It's a meditative, character-driven story - if we can even call it a story at all. Rather, Prince Avalanche more like a portrait of these mismatched road workers, set against the backdrop of an eerily desolate Texas landscape. The haunting score by post-rock band Explosions in the Sky adds a new dimension to the beautiful bleakness.
Prince Avalanche is a loose remake of the 2011 Icelandic film Either Way, and watching the movie, we couldn't help wonder if the original presented a special something extra that Green's version failed to achieve. As noted earlier, the poetic film lacks a real plot, getting swept away in long montages of burnt-out forest set to a delicately dramatic score.
Yet for all its lack of storyline, we can appreciate this much about the film: the offbeat characters have realness about them. There's a hidden depth to the simplicity of Hirsch's immature horndog character. One of his most memorable scenes is Lance's extended monologue, as he recounts his failure in the pursuit of sexual escapades during two nights out in town. Crying over his wreck of a weekend, it's unclear if the situation is meant to be sad or funny. This awkward tension between sympathy for his tears and humor over the absurdity of his sorrows cuts close to the bone of real life.
Another poignant scene is Alvin's encounter with an elderly woman who visits the ruins of her charred house, searching in vain for old memories in the ashes. It's only at this point in the film that we understand the real tragedy of the disaster that brought Alvin and Lance to this place. Given the rawness of this scene, it's hardly surprising to learn that this woman is not an actress and the house is not a set. She is a real person whose home was destroyed in the forest fire that struck Bastrop County, Texas in 2011.
Prince Avalanche is a truly original film with an endearing spirit that's hard to describe. The oddball characters and their uncomfortable situations will remain with you for days to come. Still, at times the endless quiet and footage of natural landscape, while contemplative, is a bit monotonous. Much like driving down an old highway, watching the yellow lines go by.
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