I’ve had a crush on Paul Rudd for a few years. I’m ok with this. I’m comfortable enough in my manhood/marriage to admit that (I’ve admitted a lot worse, so…). I’ll watch him in anything, but even I am aware that his film choices can be questionable. He seems to like to regurgitate the same character and the same scenarios a lot, and while he’s very good at it, I’ve be anxious for him to stretch himself a bit and do something really great. On the flipside, I kind of hate Emile Hirsch. I find his breed of acting to be annoying and false and while he has tried to stretch himself and has chosen some really quality works in the past, I often go out of my way to avoid his films if I can.
I was faced with a conundrum here.
‘Prince Avalanche’ brings both actors (who couldn’t be more different) together with director David Gordon Green (who directed the Malick-esque ‘George Washington’ and then…‘Pineapple Express’?) in a film about isolation, loneliness and self-discovery. Some will balk that this film doesn’t go anywhere or doesn’t say anything or is devoid of real story or plot and yet to those I say “dig deeper” and “look closer” and you will see, because it is all there.
The film takes place in 1988 where a highway road worker named Alvin is spending the summer painting yellow stripes along the highway with his girlfriend’s younger brother, Lance. Alvin enjoys the solitude; the camping out in the woods and being away from life in general, for it allows him the opportunity to reflect on his life. Lance hates it. He needs people and longs for some intimate interaction with women, but Alvin is fine with the distance, even if it means that he isn’t around to meet the needs of his girlfriend, who is growing restless with his absence. When Lance returns from a weekend in town, he brings information that alters Alvin’s life course, changing the way he looks at himself but also the way he projects his entire life.
What is he going to do now?
While I’ll admit that the story itself may seem slight, there is a deeper impact here that I wasn’t expecting, and sometimes it is in the simplest of plot details that the most direct emotional response can be found. Alvin’s life is so micromanaged and his idea of what he wants and what others need is misguided at the very least and obviously built around a cushion to keep him protected and ‘in control’. Lance breaks that down because he lives in a far less ‘arranged’ world, a world that is colored outside of the lines and one that consists of reckless behavior and a striving after the wind. Lance’s world is created on inexperience, while Alvin’s dwells in a world almost too experienced; one of subliminal fear. They need to strike a balance, an amalgam of their particular views, and when that happens they can find enrichment they never thought possible.
But first they need to collide.
Rudd and Hirsch are both excellent here. Hirsch’s ticks as an actor (the way he creates obnoxiousness has always irritated me) is best suited here where he is given a character who is about as naïve as they come. His expressions betray his faux sense of confidence and help bolster a performance that feels rich with underlying meaning. Rudd handles Alvin’s backstory with ease, giving his gruffness a sense of underlying pain that helps underline the progressive nature of his character. He also handles the humor, dry and awkward, with his undeniable charm. I really, really NEED Paul Rudd to work with Wes Anderson. He would fit so brilliantly into that world, and he needs to build a sharper career. Hopefully this is only the beginning for him, although next year he’s working with David Wain again so maybe not.
Yes, this doesn’t have a lot going on, but it is also brisk, and when you look at the details (that scene in the destroyed home for one) you can find something that sings with life and has a real sense of character development.
I give this a B+. It really is a small gem that will sadly be overlooked by many. Hirsch has received a mention for Supporting Actor with one critics' group, but that is all and it's a shame since the film deserves some mentions in other areas, like screenplay (it did nab one nom for that) and cinematography, not to mention the marvelous score and Rudd, who is VERY good here. I'm interested to see what Green does next (I can't wait to see his pairing with Tye Sheridan, even if it does come with Nicolas Cage) and I hope that this inspires Rudd to pursue a better career.