Magnolia Pictures // 2013 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 30th, 2013
The tale of an unlikely friendship.
"True love is just like a ghost -- people talk about it but very few have actually seen it."
Texas, 1988. Alvin (Paul Rudd, This is 40) and Lance (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild) have been tasked with repainting traffic lines on rural roads in the middle of an area that had been ravaged by wildfire just a few months earlier. It's a lonely, dull life, but the two do their best to keep each other entertained. Alvin is currently in a relationship with Lance's sister, though he doesn't get to see her much due to the nature of his job (both men are required to camp out overnight during the week). Lance is currently pursing a relationship with a local girl, though there's plenty of reason to believe it's not going to end well. When both characters fall upon hard times, they're forced to lean on each other to a greater degree than either is really comfortable with.
The career of David Gordon Green is one of the great mysteries of recent cinematic history. Early features like George Washington and Undertow had some critics calling him the successor to Terrence Malick, but then Green took a hard left turn into mainstream, big-budget comedy: Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter and quite a few episodes of Eastbound and Down. While not all of this material was without merit, it made everyone wonder what on earth had happened to the man. Prince Avalanche represents something of a halfway point between the two sides of Green's career -- it's funny and goofy at times, but there's also room for poetic reflection.
It should be noted, however, that the humor is of a much drier and slyer sort than the juvenile giggles in Your Highness. Alvin and Lance are both fundamentally good guys, but they also have an amusing habit of regarding themselves as better men than they really are. Alvin sees himself as the sage, masculine outdoorsman, but his wisdom and masculinity are considerably less significant than he suspects (observe a sublime montage that examines the way Alvin conducts himself when no one else is around). Lance has a terrifically sad, funny scene in which he weeps profusely while recalling a failed attempt to get laid, entirely oblivious to the inconsequential nature of his plight. Both characters have a lot of growing to do, but they're also uniquely equipped to aid each other in times of crisis -- they each have slivers of insight the other is lacking. Perhaps it's appropriate that their appearance makes them look an awful lot like The Mario Bros.
This is a film fueled by individual moments rather than a larger narrative, though the central theme of renewal and starting fresh underscores everything. The film's strongest scene comes about a half-hour into the proceedings, when Alvin stumbles upon an elderly woman sifting through the ashes of what used to be her home. The woman calmly, sadly points out what used to be where and reflects on how much she wishes she could find certain precious items. I was unsurprised to learn that the woman and her story were entirely real -- her name is Joyce Payne, and the film crew just happened to stumble upon her. She's a treasure, and Rudd's tender, intrigued reaction to her story is just lovely. The film never quite conjures another scene of that power, but what's left is still worth seeing.
Ultimately, Prince Avalanche feels like Green stretching his legs and getting ready to do ambitious things again. It was shot quietly and quickly (it only took 16 days, and the two leads are isolated for the vast majority of the film), and it takes full advantage of its wrecked Texas locations. The actors throw themselves into the material with enthusiasm; it's particularly great to see Rudd freed of the glib trappings of the more expensive studio comedies he often appears in (this makes a lovely companion piece to his similar turn in the more downbeat All is Bright). It's a good film (and a genuinely uplifting one), but it feels like a overture for things to come. I certainly hope it is.
Prince Avalance (Blu-ray) has received an excellent 1080p/2.40:1 transfer from the good folks at Magnolia. Detail is tremendous throughout, really letting the viewer appreciate the film's melancholy-yet-gorgeous imagery. Depth is tremendous, too, and colors have a lot of pop. Flesh tones are warm and natural. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track highlights a moving, robust score by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo, which goes a long way towards adding to the film's soulfulness. Supplements include a commentary with Green, production assistant Hugo Garza and talent driver Paul Logan, four short featurettes ("Paul & Emile," "Lance LeGault," "From the Ashes" and "AXS TV: A Look at Prince Avalanche"), brief additional interviews with Rudd, Hirsch and Green, a deleted scene, a trailer and BD-Live.
Prince Avalanche has an oddball sense of humor and a surprisingly sentimental streak that likely won't work for everyone, but those eagerly awaiting Green's return to more ambitious cinema should appreciate this charming, low-budget change-of-pace.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
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