MOVIE REVIEW: Prince Avalanche



Most workplace stories we see take place in some high-pressure corporate or nagging office setting filled with deadlines, timelines, bosses, and unending pressure.  Think Office Space.  Not all jobs and workplaces have that setting or those impatient trappings.  Some jobs are a little lower down the ladder where work is down at a plodding and casual pace.  If you think about it, movies have those tiers of difference too, from the wildest big budget adventure to the chatty independent film.  No matter the workplace, however, co-worker relationships and dynamics are always ripe places to explore.  We get a low-ladder microcosm of that with Prince Avalanche, the new film from David Gordon Green.  It's now showing in limited release (namely just the Music Box Theatre in downtown Chicago), but is also available through Video on Demand with hopes of wider expansion.

Playing a quirky odd couple, everyone's everyman Paul Rudd and Into the Wild's Emile Hirsch play a pair of overall-clad Texas highway workers who are spending the summer of 1988 traveling by Jeep and camping by tent while repainting road lines and replacing posts through a rural area recently ravaged by wildfires.  Rudd's Alvin is a mature straight-arrowed square who enjoys the quiet time away from home.  He's a careful, meditative guy who writes to his girlfriend and is always focused on efficient work.  Hirsh's Lance is the little brother of Alvin's girlfriend, which is how he got the job.  He's your typical horndog twenty-something who drags ass and hates the isolation of work and the tent lifestyle.  All he wants to do is go to town and chase tail.

Out on the job in the sunny Texas country, their only regular passerby is a truck driving fellow worker (Lane Le Gault, Col. Decker from the old A-Team show) who passes on moonshine to get through the work.  Over one weekend while Lance parties in town, Alvin stays out in the woods and comes across a woman (Joyce Payne) who is sifting through the rubble of her burned out home.  Alvin and Lance butt heads when it comes to music, responsibility, free time, the perception of being alone, and their ideals about the pursuit of women.  By getting Lance this job, Alvin hopes that Lance can gain a little respect for hard work, maturity, and peaceful discipline.   At the same time, Alvin lives a little youth vicariously through Lance and his hookup stories.  Before too long, their bickering turns to heart-to-heart support and friendship.

The two leads, especially Rudd, do a very admirable job turning down their usual energy and appeal.  As Alvin, Paul has to play a bit of a loser and less of the usual cheeky-and-charming master of wit that we are used to seeing from him in endless studio comedies.  It's nice to see him slow down and hint at his dramatic skills.  Lance's immature and wily angle is less of a stretch for Hirsch who plays this kind of free spirit all the time.  Their characters are good foils for comparison and their performances mesh well together.  Other than the repetitive job and the escalating banter, it's a shame they weren't given more to do.

Prince Avalanche was written and produced by David Gordon Green, who sought out something smaller to get back to his independent roots after three straight major studio films, Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and The Sitter.  He succeeded in that regard with this virtually two-character film that is definitely lesser in tone and impact that those three loud zany comedies.  After this movie was picked up by a distributor after the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Prince Avalanche netted Green the Silver Berlin Bear prize for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival.  Seeing as how each of his three previous big time comedies got worse as they progressed (68%27%, and 22% on Rotten Tomatoes), maybe this level is where David Gordon Green belongs.  He's no Judd Apatow, though, who can make a big movie feel small and still fill it with interesting developments.

"Artful" and "low key" are the two adjectives being tossed around the most for Prince Avalanche and they fit the description.  The trouble is "artful" and "low key" can be synonyms for "ponderous" and "boring."  Bathed in the Texas sun darting through corpses of trees to a forest bottom just starting to grow itself back and backed by a strumming score from Explosions in the Sky, Prince Avalanche will be the prettiest ponderous and boring movie you will see this year up to this point (unless you caved to the snobbery to see Terrance Malick's To the Wonder back in the spring).  As solid of a character-driven film as it intended to be, there's just not much to bite into or take with you afterwards.  It's not a completely bad movie, it's just nothing special.

LESSON #1: BONDING WITH CO-WORKERS AT THE WORKPLACE-- Lance is in a bit of a tough spot.  He's not cut out for this work, but needs the job.  His supervisor that he's stuck completely alone with is his sister's girlfriend.  That's not really enough for them to have in common when they come from two different schools of thought.  Sure enough, once you spend enough time with one person in close quarters at work, you start to understand them, know their vices, and get what makes them tick.  That goes for both Lance and Alvin.  That growing proximity can turn into real connection once you find something to agree upon.

LESSON #2: REAP THE BENEFITS OF SOLITUDE-- Yes, working in the hot sun in an ugly landscape isn't exactly a glamorous getaway or destination.  Neither is living out of a tent or a Jeep for a few months.  To get through it, you have to make the best of it.  Find the joys in the little things and the isolation of having the space to do some good and work out your issues in a quiet place.  There's a benefit and strength to solitude when taken the right way.  Alvin gets it, but Lance doesn't.

LESSON #3: THERE'S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING LONELY AND BEING ALONE-- Lance looks at Alvin and essentially labels him a lonely mess.  Alvin quickly retorts this lesson as a quote.  He couldn't be more right.  You don't have to be a recluse, hermit, loser, or introvert to appreciate and handle being alone without being or feeling lonely.  With the right mentality and activity, being alone can be helpful time spent.  The self-reflection and personal improvement that is sought out when one is alone is far from being lonely.  Lonely is when one cannot find reflection or improvement.