Festival season is in full swing in the summer, so we naturally wind up with a plethora of film reviews from various festivals around the country, even after the festivals are long over. We've chosen to dole them out to you individually, and today Nate Abernethy covers Prince Avalanche, the new work from indie auteur David Gordon Green, who has lately mostly been known for his stoner epics with James Franco and Danny McBride but whose origins are in the mumblecore movement. Nate saw this film at this year's SXSW Film festival, which Nick Hanover and Dylan Garsee reported on daily.
Poster designed by Kristen Fletcher
The thing I love most about David Gordon Green is that not a single one of his films are the same, yet I can immediately tell that each one undoubtedly has the director’s unique flair. Prince Avalanche is no exception, as the director flawlessly delivers a touching examination of friendship, isolation, loss and growth. With a small but stellar cast, an alien-like charred Bastrop landscape, and a masterful director at the top of his game, Prince Avalanche is everything you could hope for– a small-scale character study that is charming, even cheeky, and always heartfelt.
Featuring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch in the central, and essentially only, roles, Prince Avalanche is a remake of the wonderfully understated and subdued 2011 Icelandic film Either Way. On the surface Prince Avalanche is an incredibly straightforward remake with almost the entirety of the dialogue, plot, and even 1980s time period remaining unchanged. However transplanting the location from the wondrous sights of Iceland’s midnight sun to the eerie yet beautiful post-wildfire wilderness of Bastrop elevates Prince Avalanche to the level of an entirely unique and incomparable film. Rudd portrays Alvin, a somewhat uptight road worker who embraces the seclusion of the job with a meditative calmness. As a favor to his girlfriend, Alvin has hired her somewhat witless younger brother Lance (Hirsch) to spend the summer painting highway lines with him. Sharply contrasting with Alvin’s understated enthusiasm for isolation, Lance can’t wait to just get back to town and “get the little man squeezed.” Alvin’s initial disdain and impatient for Lance softens as the two spend their secluded summer together and form a shared bond.
From the roll of the opening credits, Rudd shines as Alvin in what is undoubtedly his greatest performance to date. He strikes a flawless balance in his exasperated but rarely malicious attitude towards Hirsch’s Lance, and remains likable even at his character’s lowest points. Despite Rudd’s decidedly strong leading performance, Prince Avalanche will forever be known as the film that discovered the impeccable comedic timing of Emile Hirsch. Known primarily for his more straightforward dramatic fare, if Hirsch doesn’t immediately jump on the Apatow train or dive head first into other comedic work then he is cruelly depriving the world of his indescribable talents. Hirsch captures the naïve and obliviously blunt nature of Lance, but never feels like a half-baked caricature. While both actors bring an intangible charming quality to their respective characters, Prince Avalanche would be nothing without the two’s undeniable chemistry. Rudd effortlessly plays off Hirsch’s antics, while Hirsch brings a lighthearted balance to the relationship. Ironically, despite being the funniest film I saw at SXSW, Prince Avalanche is a far departure from the comedy Rudd is associated with and is a long demanded return to art house cinema for Green. Don’t let the 90 minute running time fool you, Prince Avalanche moves at its own pace and is in no hurry to reach its conclusion.
While the film stays true to Either Way’s central focus of the leading pair’s relationship, some of the most powerful moments come courtesy of the change in setting. The charred scenery of Bastrop is so essential to the film that it could be considered the third lead actor; in fact, Green’s decision to shoot a film against the wildfire's debris was made before he had even settled on a script. One unforgettable scene features Bastrop native and wildfire survivor Joyce Payne as she gives Rudd a tour of the burnt rubble that remains of her actual house as she heartbreakingly describes her lost possessions with a deeply affecting sadness and calm. Payne and the late character actor Lance LeGault bring a genuine heart and charm to the film’s only other minor characters, who otherwise could have easily felt out of place. LeGault especially is beyond entertaining and just plain fascinating to watch, and the audience I viewed the film with lit up every time he was onscreen.
While admittedly Prince Avalanche might not be for everyone, I find it incredibly difficult to understand how anyone could not adore this film. A striking balance of genuine heart and laughs cemented by strong performances from both Rudd and Hirsch will make critics take notice and leave viewers ecstatic. A prime example of how bold decisions and a true desire for filmmaking can pay off. Ultimately Prince Avalanche is David Gordon Green's triumphant return to his indie r
oots, and perhaps his finest film to date.
Nate Abernethy is a magical sprite we captured and forced to do film reviews. He somehow also wound up with a twitter account @NateAbernethy