Prince Avalanche (Magnolia Pictures, R)

Prince-Avalanche 75Prince Avalanche is a nice halfway point between the Malickian older films and the Hollywood comedies Green’s been making lately.

Prince-Avalanche 500

The advertising campaign for the new release Prince Avalanche has stressed that the film is like a cross between director David Gordon Green’s older films, such as 2000’s George Washington or 2003’s All the Real Girls, and his newer films, like 2008’s Pineapple Express. This sounds good (assuming you’ve seen all of the above movies, which I doubt very many people really have), but it also intrinsically implies the weirdness of Green’s career trajectory. Washington and Girls were his first two features, and both are brilliant—about as good as American independent cinema has gotten in the new millennium. Specifically, I had All the Real Girls at #3 on my (unpublished) Ten Best Films of 2000-2009 list. Girls was also the feature film debut of one Danny McBride, and from that point on Green and McBride’s careers were closely tied—many saw his role in Pineapple Express as being his big break, DGG has directed many episodes of Eastbound and Down, etc. What’s easy to miss is that these McBride vehicles, while often funny, have little to nothing in common with Green’s earlier films, which owe a very large debt to the cinema of Terrence Malick.

So. Yes. Prince Avalanche is a nice halfway point between the Malickian older films and the Hollywood comedies Green’s been making lately. But what is that, exactly? In this case, it’s a very minimal story of two men working on a rural highway in Texas in the late 80s. The men are boss Alvin (Paul Rudd) and underling Lance (Emile Hirsch), the latter of which also is the brother of Alvin’s girlfriend, which is probably the only reason he got the job, given that he’s lazy and somewhat belligerent and somewhat stupid. Alvin, for his part, is a little too self-serious and controlling. Both characters feel like people you’ve met.

And really, that’s about it. The vast majority of the movie is just those two characters, given that they never stray far from the highway they’re working on and said highway is more or less deserted. From time to time they encounter a booze-toting truck driver played by Lance LeGault, but that’s basically all. This type of small cast and limited number of locations is usually indicative of a movie that was adapted from a play, but Prince Avalanche feels appropriately cinematic—perhaps then it shouldn’t be surprising that the film was adapted from an Icelandic movie called Either Way.

Our two leads have the vibe of characters Mark Twain would have written, and while Paul Rudd has proven to be a very dependable actor, I’ve never much liked Emile Hirsch and was somewhat wary of spending 90 minutes in his presence. While perhaps not great, he is at least functional here. The movie rolls along at both an amusing and pleasant pace, and though it falls apart somewhat in the end, I’m still happy to see David Gordon Green pointed back in the direction of the type of film I prefer from him. | Pete Timmermann

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