' Cinema Romantico: Prince Avalanche

Monday, August 19, 2013

Prince Avalanche

Alvin and Lance are a two-person road maintenance crew in 1988 in an isolated part of Texas ravaged by wildfires. Their job, presented matter-of-factly as the tedium it is, consists of re-painting yellow lane lines on the swath of highway slicing through the burned out area. Aside from a couple characters that wander into the narrative at random spots, Alvin and Lance are the only people we encounter. As such, they become dependent on one another to not simply get through endless days of walking the asphalt but dealing with the small human traumas looming at their unseen homes.


"Prince Avalanche", directed by the talented, if flummoxing, David Gordon Green is a handsome film, a return of sorts to his earlier roots of visual cinematic transcendentalism. Over and over he takes time just to revel in the natural setting - unearthing beauty in a damaged landscape.

Even so, the most spectacular sight in the film is none of the above - rather it is Paul Rudd's mustache. I'm serious. In his recent work Rudd has been actor, I think, not doing much beyond playing himself, or a skewed version of himself, and frustratingly over-relying on improv. The scene at the mirror in "Wanderlust" was, to this reviewer, a career low. This is film, after all, not an episode The Groundlings. But in "Prince Avalanche" he grows a billowy mustache (it's the 80's) and almost seems to vanish behind it. This is not to suggest he has gone all Day-Lewis, far from it, but that he has a found a real character to play and honed it on what makes this character in particular tick.

His Alvin employs eternal optimism as a shield masking loneliness and, yet, in spite of that loneliness he is a certified loner. It is not difficult to tell he is better cut out for this work in the wilderness then these dreams he harbors of moving to Germany with his girlfriend.

Lance is the brother of Alvin's girlfriend, and Hirsch plays him as a sex-obsessed space cadet. His mind rarely broadens behind the prospects of where and when and with whom his next lay is coming, and some of the funniest bits in "Prince Avalanche" involve Rudd's reaction shots to Hirsch's wonked-out monologues. "In your mind," Rudd says, "you truly do perceive yourself as a gentleman."

Things happen, mostly off screen, and so our mismatched pair are forced to bond, and it is in this bonding that the film is at its best and most delicate. Even by film's end we do not mistake Alvin and Lance for BFFs. And although they will not be taking a road trip to the coast together, a mutual empathy develops between the two. I hesitate to say either of them reaches an understanding of the other, but what they do reach is understanding of the other's plight.

It is a film wherein you could claim nothing happens. Of course, as is so often the case, you'd be surprised at how much can happen when nothing is happening. By the end they have not become new men so much as they have decided to initiate the process to become new men.

Burn that shit down and start again.

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