Writer and director David Gordon Green has kind of lost his way over the last five years or so. Known for making independent dramas that were genuinely well received by critics, Green made the jump to R-rated comedy in 2008 with "Pineapple Express" which went on to gross $87 million domestically on a $27 million budget. Green would stay in the R-rated comedy game for a while with "Your Highness" and "The Sitter," both of which either flopped or barely made a profit. "Prince Avalanche" seems like a return to form for Green and while it isn't groundbreaking, it's definitely an experience worth having.
The opening words of the film go something like this: "In 1987, 43,000 woodland acres in central Texas were burned by wildfires. Approximately 1,600 homes were destroyed and four lives were lost. The cause of the fires remains unknown." A year later, you're introduced to two highway road workers; Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch). They use the job to get away from the busy city life with Alvin enjoying the solitude and Lance being more than a little bored with it. The two men relate to the subject of women and become close thanks to their experiences with females, but then begin to clash when the women of their lives begin to complicate matters.
"Prince Avalanche" has some amazing cinematography. The film opens with fires damaging acres and acres of land as you helplessly witness a sea of trees burn to the ground. As you're watching it, you can't help but feel the devastation of the fire, the extreme loss, and the severe sense of hopelessness. At the same time, it's kind of beautiful in a sorrowful kind of way. Little things become extraordinary with fantastic camera work: pushing a wheelbarrow over a hill as dawn breaks, water trickling through rocks in a stream, a caterpillar slowly crawling towards its destination, and close-ups of paint staining the asphalt and rain adding moisture to various surfaces.
As you watch Alvin and Lance paint lines on the asphalt, hammer poles into the side of the road, and glue down street reflectors, you begin to realize how lonely it must be and yet how absolutely liberating it can feel at the same time. The two men camp out under the stars every night, live in a tent, and eat and drink at the cusp of nature at all times. They're alone out in the middle of nowhere and only have each other to keep one another company.
The humor of the film mostly lies within two men craving what they can't have. Lance just wants to get laid and is amusing nearly every time he opens his mouth. His weekend story is downright entertaining. Alvin seems a bit more reserved. He's so in love with Lance's sister Madison that nothing else really matters to him. There's one amazing scene where Paul Rudd walks into the remains of a burned down house and pretends he's coming home to a loving wife in a two story home who's fixing dinner for the two of them.
While the film does a fantastic job portraying the relationship between Alvin and Lance, "Prince Avalanche" doesn't really go anywhere when it comes to the story. By the end of the film, the two men are closer than they were at the beginning but there's little resolve otherwise. The alcoholic truck driver (Lance LeGault) and the woman searching for her pilot's license in the ashes of her former home (Joyce Payne) were interesting characters to encounter, but also didn't really have much impact on the overall story.
"Prince Avalanche" is a beautifully filmed dramatic comedy with exceptional performances from Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. Paul Rudd should get bonus points for his Daniel Plainview-like appearance. While the story may have weak legs, the relationship between Alvin and Lance is strong enough to make "Prince Avalanche" a lonely road worth traveling.