Breathe easy everyone, King David Gordon Green has returned to making good movies again. It’s been four films since the former indie auteur has made a solid one, and three of those were not under studio restraints. After The Sitter shit on everything Green worked so hard for, I worried we’d never get back the man so many of us movie geeks once adored for his Sundance hits All the Real Girls and Snow Angels, and the dystopian future we read about in the Bible was on its way.
Since science or logic will never be able to comprehend or understand what was going through Green’s mind when he made Your Highness and The Sitter, and he’ll probably never explain or defend these films, we’re going to pretend they never, ever happened. Pineapple Express was a wacky and humorous attempt at mixing comedians with hard violence and drugs, and though sub-par, it was at least enjoyable.
Perhaps The Sitter dropping a bomb at the box office was a wake up call. Or maybe it was the broken hearts of Green admirers from all over. But Prince Avalanche, a remake of the Icelandic film Either Way, marks Green’s triumphant return to compelling independent film storytelling.
Prince Avalanche stars Paul Rudd as Alvin and Emile Hirsch as Lance. They work together in the middle of a wooded nowhere as highway road workers after a 1987 disaster. Their job is to rebuild what the fire destroyed. They spend their days spraying yellow lines on the street and hammering-in posts. They dress in the same blue jean overalls Kurt Russell wears in Big Trouble in Little China, except they don’t look nearly as awesome or fit as him. After work is done, they fix up a tent, cook their food, and diddle daddle until it’s time for sleep. For the adventurous, it sounds like an awesome gig. But the problem here is, well, Alvin hates Lance. A whole lot. Like the road they’re fixing, their friendship is a one way street. They constantly fight, bicker, and throw tools at each other.
But why does Alvin hate Lance so much? For starters, Lance has no sense of decorum. All he wants to do is talk about sex (“man-squeezed” is what he proudly coins it) and blast rock music on the boombox. Alvin’s favorite pastime is listening to Rosetta Stone-esque cassette tapes that teach him how to speak German. Before he brought on Lance, this construction job offered him something of immeasurable value: solitude. But Lance is Alvin’s girlfriend’s little brother, so he sucked it up, and gave this ding dong a summer job with him. Alvin sacrificed his sanity and much wanted detachment from the real world for love. Oof.
No matter if it’s comedy or drama, Paul Rudd can crank the charm in every role he does. He’s proven time and time again that he’s a very funny guy, but when the role needs it, he can project maturity and sincerity. This is what makes Rudd one of today’s most in-demand actors. Green uses Rudd’s charisma as a tool to give this story a face. Green shows us the more righteous side of Rudd. Smart move for both Green and Rudd too, because this performance is outstanding.
“How did Emile Hirsch keep up with the charismatic Paul Rudd?” you probably want to know. The simple answer is this: playing dumb. Hirsch broke from the teenage movie career phase, focused on more serious leading roles (Into the Wild being the most notable), and took a sharp left turn into Supporting Character Goontown with his last two films. The result? Utter brilliance. In Killer Joe, he plays an ignorant redneck with his eye on the prize: money. The results end very bad for him. In Prince Avalanche, he’s a stubborn hillbilly who refuses to grow up. To quote Alvin, Lance “quite realistically cannot amount to anything.” Playing a goon comes natural to Hirsch, which only means he’s good at convincing people. He’s a real actor.
There are plenty of laughs in Prince Avalanche, especially when Alvin and Lance are screaming obscenities at each other, but this story goes deeper than the conventional story of an unlikely friendship. Even though they see the world through different perspectives, there’s no denying these two have a level of intimacy between them. What makes this a compelling film is how these characters grow together, while being one another’s only source of companionship.
I applaud Green so much for leaving the studio system to make a film on his own merit and terms. Prince Avalanche was made in secret and nobody knew a thing about it until after production wrapped. Small stories with a heart is what Green is good at telling, and that’s exactly what Prince Avalanche is – a little story with a big beating heart. Welcome back, dude.