Reviewer’s Rating: ★★★
An intimate film featuring only two principal characters, three supporting characters and small group of extras, “Prince Avalanche” travels far on minimal resources. Mostly comedic but occasionally dramatic, it’s accompanied by a subdued, reflective musical score by David Wingo and the naturally cinematic Austin indie-rock band Explosions in the Sky. The music is nearly a character unto itself.
Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd co-star as a mismatched pair painting yellow lines on rural roadways in a huge portion of central Texas that recently had been devastated by epic wildfires.
Rudd’s Alvin is the older of the two. He fancies himself to be a man in control, on the responsible path. The younger Lance, played by the Jack Black-like Hirsch, may technically be a young adult, but there’s a childlike immaturity, even simplicity about him. He has little interest in being responsible. He just wants to get laid.
Lance got his road-painting job solely through the auspices of Alvin, whose girlfriend happens to be Lance’s sister. But no one can blame Lance for being bored on the job. It’s instructive, too, that Alvin is doing such mechanical work as painting lines on a road.
Lance longs for his weekends off in the nearest town. Alvin claims he doesn’t get lonely in the sticks. “I reap the reward of solitude,” he says.
As Lance and Alvin paint lines through the damaged, quiet landscape that includes homes reduced to ashes, charred vehicles and animals displaying burn scars, the film assumes an aura of magical realism. Perhaps there are ghosts in the silent hills.
The film shifts into surreality when Lance comes upon an elderly lady (Joyce Payne) sifting through the remains of a former residence.
“Is this your house?” he asks.
“Was,” she answers. “Past tense. Everything is past tense.”
Written and directed by David Gordon Green (TV’s “Eastbound & Down,” “Pineapple Express” and “The Sitter”) and based upon the Icelandic film, “Either Way,” “Prince Avalanche” has some great lines. The unnamed woman Alvin meets says them. So does the gregarious truck driver (Lance LeGault) who periodically spends a few moments with the road painters.
As Alvin and Lance, fulfilling the familiar buddy picture roles as opposites who get stuck together but eventually warm up to each other, are credible and entertaining. And their characters’ extended conversations, which deftly blend comedy and poignancy, play naturally.
As “Prince Avalanche” winds down to the end of its just over 90-minute trip, the story feels as if there’s more to tell. On the other hand, Alvin and Lance’s stay in the ashen wilderness also is a complete chapter on a road less traveled.