This review was originally published on January 25, 2013 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
One shouldn’t begrudge an artist for trying something new. When David Gordon Green shed his character-study cred to direct 2008’s “Pineapple Express,” it was a welcome change of pace that boded well for the potential diversity of Green’s career to come. 2011’s one-two punch of middling studio efforts “Your Highness” and “The Sitter” put a considerable damper on those expectations, and now Green returns with the smaller-scale, somewhat slight “Prince Avalanche.”
Taking place in 1988, a year after devastating fires ravaged Central Texas (a similar phenomenon in 2011 resulted in the film’s current landscape), the story sees Alvin (Paul Rudd) begrudgingly accompanied by his girlfriend’s lazy brother, Lance (Emile Hirsch), as they spend the summer painting stripes and placing poles along eight miles of remote road. Alvin savors the solitude that comes with it; Lance can’t stop groaning about it. “Let’s just enjoy the silence,” Alvin insists.
A remake of little-seen Icelandic comedy “Either Way,” “Avalanche” sees Green quietly addressing the overlap between one’s livelihood, lifestyle and life. (See? They’re marking pavement, but they have no sense of direction themselves!) As such, the laughs tend to come sporadically, whether Lance is attempting discreet masturbatory tactics in the tent he shares with Alvin or whenever both are joined by a dump truck driver (Lance LeGault) who’s more than happy to share his hooch. A stronger sense of melancholy manifests as the film rambles on, with a possibly ghostly woman (Joyce Payne) and the scorched landscape serving as indications of what’s past and may yet grow anew.
The wonderful score by David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky serves as the film’s single most transportive element. Tim Orr’s cinematography is as naturally lovely as ever, while Rudd -- deluded in his happiness -- and Hirsch -- dissatisfied even by his own superficial criteria -- share a viably volatile chemistry, whether squabbling over practical matters or bonding over concurrent heartbreak. However, Green’s sense of pacing is languid to a near-fault, frustrating in a way it’s rarely been, and he’s prone to the odd, rare flourish with the occasional handwritten expression of love hanging above our characters’ heads in a film that tends to be spare in its storytelling.
“Prince Avalanche” occupies a strange space between his broadly comedic fare and devoutly character-driven dramas, and while we’re happy to see him closer to the latter mode once more, let’s hope that he’ll be back in a bigger way the next time out.
SCORE: 7.4 / 10