David Gordon Green returns to earlier form and style with a stream of slow poetry that shares the warmth of George Washington and All the Real Girls. It’s also one of his funniest films: ironically containing more laughs than his last two disastrous comedies, Your Highness and The Sitter.
Prince Avalanche is a remake of an Icelandic dramedy, Á annan veg, and it’s understandable why Green snapped up the rights. Placing Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch alone in nature, it matches Green’s pre-mainstream love of trapped losers screaming in forests – just as Snow Angels mirrored emotional suffering within a natural environment.
After a wildfire causes havoc with the roads of Bastrop, a lonely town in Texas, Rudd and Hirsch relay the traffic lines for miles on end. The serene activity is mostly in silence, with few vehicles passing through. Conversation is forced between a pair thrust into an artificial companionship: Hirsch is Rudd’s girlfriend’s brother. Rudd is controlled, patient and comfortable with isolation. Meanwhile, Hirsch lounges like a moody adolescent, complaining he’s bored and misses visiting regional beauty pageants to pick up girls.
Language becomes more elegant under peaceful circumstances, creating humour from Hirsch’s inappropriate comments (“nature makes me so horny”). Both actors are on top form; playfully competitive, mixing warmth with tension. Aside from a few minutes with a truck driver, it’s mostly just the two on screen, so the viewer shares their intimacy. Similarly, you get sick of them and forgive them at the same time.
Away from civilisation, Rudd and Hirsch share heartbreak and argue about everything. They’re bittersweet and frequently hilarious. (“How did you learn to live this long without knowing how to gut a fish?” exasperates Rudd.) The pacing is superbly broken up by evocative images of the landscape’s beauty, all captured by Green’s regular cinematographer, Tim Orr.
Green isn’t just running back to safety. Prince Avalanche combines the maturity of earlier era with the mischievous comedy he developed with Danny McBride. I noticed throughout the clouds never moved, and that’s the perfectly stoic setting; deeply measured, the central friendship grows with the roads they’re rebuilding. There’s no better location for their clash identities to play out. “There’s a difference between being lonely and alone,” ponders Rudd. Hirsch meekly responds, “There is?”
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