David Gordon Green emerged in 2000 directing George Washington. It was followed by All the Real Girls and Undertow, making him the king of low budget, low key indie movies that movie snobs could brag about liking. Then he made Pineapple Express (funny), Your Highness (never saw, looked terrible) and The Sitter (never saw it, looked even worse). Paul Rudd emerged as the dreamy step brother in Clueless, then disappeared before exploding back into the mainstream as one of Judd Apatow’s most reliable and hilarious weapons. Emile Hirsch was the moody kid in Lords of Dogtown, the moody (and totally unlikeable) lead in Into the Wild, then crapped the bed with Speed Racer. The reason I go into all of this is because I think their eclectic history plays a big part in everything I liked about Prince Avalanche. And I liked a lot of things about Prince Avalanche.
Rudd and Hirsch are Alvin and Lance respectively, road crew workers, restoring a remote stretch of road on the middle of nowhere after a massive wild fire. Rudd is the straight laced, hard worker. Hirsch is the aimless little brother of Rudd’s girlfriend, who obviously only got his job through that connection. The vast majority of Prince Avalanche is just these two dudes, going through the mundane, repetitive motions of their job. Somehow though, Green makes sure painting road lines, hammering in safety posts and laying out witches hats is always strangely mesmerising, never boring.
A couple of other characters float in and out, but they’re almost like figments of Rudd and Hirsch’s imaginations. With their hypnotic monologues and questions about life, they could almost be straight out Richard Linklater’s Slacker or Waking Life.
While Rudd is the uptight one and Hirsch is the perpetual screw up, their dynamic isn’t as predictable and by the numbers as those descriptions sound. Rudd is uptight, but he’s not above stopping down for an on the job beer in the middle of the day when one is on offer. Hirsch is a directionless slacker, but you see him really trying to do his job well and learn from Rudd from the get go. There’s no clichéd moment when they both realise they can learn a lot form the other. It seems like a real, lived in relationship between the two.
This really is a great movie and a great sign for all three of the main players. I don’t think anyone ever doubted Rudd’s acting ability, but it’s still cool to see something so different and toned down from his usual. Emile Hirsch seems to be pretty picky about what he does (Speed Racer aside), and this is the first time I’ve seen him take on a role bordering on broad and comedic, and he nails it.
But the real positive is the return of David Gordon Green to this small, character based, talk heavy style of film making. Pineapple Express was funny enough and shows he knows how to execute big comedy and use a bigger budget, but there are plenty of people out there making those sorts of movies. There aren’t as many who know how to make something like Prince Avalanche. Small, quiet and introspective, but never pretentious, arduous or boring.