Alvin (Paul Rudd) is a man of a very firm ideas.
Silence is good for you. Learning languages, particularly German, is vital (especially if you want to converse easily with “the natives”). And taking an entire summer out to manually paint bright yellow lines on remote roads that twist their way through the fire-ravaged backwoods of Texas is a worth use of anyone’s time.
But his girlfriend’s brother Lance (Emile Hirsch) whose tastes run to getting his “man” squeezed on the weekend and buying $38 digital watches as a “splurge”, and who is Alvin’s unlikely road-painting companion in writer and director David Gordon Green’s remake of the Icelandic film Either Way (Á annan veg), Prince Avalanche, begs to differ.
He sees their self-imposed isolation far from the nightlife and hookups of his hometown as a great sacrifice, and not the almost spiritual quest that Alvin, a man anxious about life and his ability to meet its demands, perceives it as, at least on the surface.
While Alvin regrets his absences from his girlfriend whom he idealises and writes letters to constantly, but whom Lance unsentimentally accuses of staying at home all day on the phone chewing gum, he sees them as a necessary step to preparing for the idealised family life he has in mind somewhere down the road, making it clear to Emile that he won’t tolerate any dissent from his grand master plan.
But therein lies the problem.
While Alvin speaks with the certainty of a true believer about what is and ins’t necessary for a happy, fulfilled life, disparaging any insights the openly insecure Lance is foolish enough to offer up, not even he is sure deep down it is all going to work out – not that he would ever admit that taking refuge is strident statements and the solitude of a weekend alone where no one can question him too deeply – something which becomes all too clear when an unexpected event causes his house of carefully-constructed cards to come tumbling down.
Suddenly his condescending appraisal of Lance as a “possibly mentally disabled” man who, shock, horror has reached adulthood without the ability to “gut a fish, build a tent or tie a knot”, looks hollow and pointless.
Lance may not have his life together, and may be facing some domestic challenges of his own, but at least he is open about his inability to work it all out, something Alvin doggedly refuses to be.
At least at first.
It takes a drunken night fuelled by alcohol given to them by a strange blunt but oddly friendly old man (Lance Legault) who keeps appearing on the road in a vintage battered truck before abruptly departing, when they exchange some much needed home truths to each other, for both of them to finally admit that neither one has any idea what they’re doing.
And that’s when an unexpected, affectionate friendship of equals is born.
Prince Avalanche is one of those rare movies that manages to successfully meld the searing soul-searching honesty of two people coming to the end of one part of their lives and the start of another in a stark landscape that looks ideally suited for this kind of existential reassessment with wry, darkly-laced humour that sits well against the melancholy that surrounds it.
Green, a man who has dabbled in comedies (Pineapple Express) and drama such as the much-acclaimed George Washington, seems to have found the perfect vehicle in Prince Avalanche to deftly combine these markedly different types of movies in one poetic whole.
He also has a gift for crafting beautiful, arresting and emotionally resonant montages, complete with discordant but melodically rich music by David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky, that rather than skipping over key events as some montages are wont to do, enhance the narrative of which they are a part.
Some of the scenes such as when Alvin is alone for the weekend with just his imaginary playacting with his idealised family in a burned out house to keep him company, or the closing shots of highway workers chopping trees and children playing with chickens in the burned timbers, possess a haunting quality to them that complete the film far more than they detract from it.
And it’s this attention to visual detail, realised most fully in close ups of the yellow paint hitting the road with a sinuous slap, or the rain falling hard on the burgundy paintwork of their toy-like work vehicle, that, allied with sparse but well-used dialogue and understated but powerfully-realised characters gives Prince Avalanche the sort of emotional resonance that many higher budget films would kill for.
David Gordon Green has succeeded in creating a movie that while it may often embrace the silence, in all its myriad forms, that Alvin reveres, nevertheless speaks loudly and clearly and with a poetry and insight borne of thought and care and a darkly comic view of things, of the way life can often surprise us and how we’re all the richer when it does.