'Goodnight, You Princes of Maine, You Kings of the Jungle'

Prince Avalanche
(USA, 94 min.)
Written and directed by David Gordon Green
Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch.
Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche, a Magnolia Pictures release. 
It is said that opposites attract. Co-workers Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) couldn’t be any more different from one another. Alvin is a quirky, straight-laced introvert while Lance is rowdy, restless, and youthful. One could arguably say the same about the films of director David Gordon Green, who has made a name for himself with quietly moving independent films such as All the Real Girls and with the R-rated reefer madness of films Pineapple Express. Prince Avalanche, which scooped the Best Director Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival after premiering at Sundance, finds a good marriage in the bipolar personalities of both its two leads and its director. This new film by David Gordon Green is a smart, subtle, yet uproarious comedy.

The two oddballs of Prince Avalanche enjoy the peculiar summer job of painting lines on country roads. Spraying one yellow strip after another could easily be a dull summer job, and I say this as someone who spent one summer counting cars, but these seemingly boring jobs can often compensate tedium and routine with camaraderie and personal growth. When two guys like Alvin and Lance work together twenty-four/seven—they camp in the woods, rather than commute—the experience forces them to jive with other personalities. They adapt in the wild, one could say.

There’s a sprightly rhythm to the banter between Rudd and Hirsch as they enjoy silly back-and-forth conversations to fill the void. Quipping over Equal Time Agreement for their work radio—Lance likes rock while Alvin hogs the airtime for his hilarious German language lessons—in between bouts of discussing their love lives, albeit reluctantly since Alvin is dating Lance’s sister, the two men find an unusual common ground in their wildly different personalities and world views as they muse about the wonders of sex and nature. The talky companionship between Alvin and Lance is droll yet surprisingly observational: the dialogue of Green’s script has a quirky filter for male bonding. Prince Avalanche is a uniquely masculine indie, for it’s an offbeat tale of how boys will be boys. There’s an intuitive, almost unspoken worldliness to the film, too, for one can sense the gradual arc in which these two boys learn to become men. Alvin and Lance learn how to break out of their shells and step out of their comfort zones by spending so much time in the wilderness with a peer so different from himself.

Prince Avalanche accentuates the isolation of Alvin and Lance by situating their work assignment far from the hustle-bustle of urban living in the midst of the woods. Shot on location in Bastrop State Park, a Texas pine forest that was devastated by a wildfire in 2011, Prince Avalanche sets the boys in a place that seems to be populated only by the two leads of the story. Few animals appear in the woods, save for a sneaky skunk that munches away on a squished turtle. Alvin and Lance look very much alone amongst the charred remains of the park, which is strikingly shot by Tim Orr, who finds a vibrant composition for the barren landscape. The park looks gloomy having been so thoroughly ravaged, but there’s a sense of life regenerating as the yellow paint the workers splatter stands out within the scorched scenery. Adding to the life of Prince Avalanche is an excellent score by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo.

The quirky sense of place enjoys an especially Wes Anderson-ish vibe as the action of Prince Avalanche never wanders from the forest. If one of the leads steps out of the frame for a recess, Green keeps the camera trained on the other actor as his character evolves in the absence of the other. Rudd gets an especially memorable sequence to grow his character when Lance goes into town for a dirty weekend and leaves Alvin to enjoy his solitude. The interval offers Rudd some moments for amusing character development as Alvin frolics in nature and flexes his muscles in outdoorsy survival, but the physical comedy of the sequence reveals a disconnect between the way Alvin sees himself and the way he actually is. The scene is matched by Lance’s return to the picture as Hirsch delivers a lengthy monologue that describes with heart and humour how Lance’s weekend of debauchery went awry. It’s the moment in the film where one can feel the characters connect and it marks a turning point for both men.

Their solitude is interrupted only be two figures who wander into the woods at odd times. One is a boozy truck driver, played with memorable curmudgeonliness by the late Lance LeGault, who offers the road workers potent mixed drinks and blunt life advice. The other is a woman, played by Joyce Payne, whom Alvin encounters during his solo adventure through the woods. She’s lost everything in her home that burned during the fire. Sifting through the ashes with hopes to come across a miracle, the woman adds an unexpected note of poignancy to this coming of age tale.

Prince Avalanche is charming character study of two dissimilar men with a similar flaw. This peculiar story of growing up shows that boys will be boys, especially when getting away from busy urban living and getting back to nature, but the law of the jungle inevitable affords the kind of experience that turns boys into men. Manliness has never been so cute and quirky.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Prince Avalanche opens in Toronto Friday, August 23rd at Cineplex Yonge and Dundas.
UPDATE: The film screens in Ottawa at The Mayfair Nov. 1-5.