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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prince Avalanche (Limited Release Date: 8-9-2013)

        Five years after the fact, David Gordon Green still feels like an odd choice to direct Pineapple Express. Creator of such indie darlings as George Washington and All the Real Girls, Green defied nearly all expectations by signing on the helm Seth Rogen's stoner action comedy. The film has both its advocates and its detractors (file me in the former category), though you'd have a much tougher time discovering anyone willing to sing the praise of his pair of raunchy comedy follow-ups, The Sitter, and the putrid Your Highness. So, after a five-year, three-movie detour into cannabis-fumigated multiplexes, Green begins the journey home with Prince Avalanche, an impossibly small indie with lingering affectations from its director's stint in the big leagues.

        Set way way back in the long-forgotten time of 1988, Prince Avalanche chronicles the lives and troubles of a pair of road workers as they re-paint lines on the asphalt in wildfire-ravanged Texas. The senior member and self-appointed leader is Alvin (Paul Rudd), a type-A personality focused on doing his job, living well, and sending money back home to his sweetheart, Madison. Lance (Emile Hirsch), the brother of Alvin's girlfriend, is a perfect foil; willfully juvenile, haphazardly crass, and disinterested in just about anything not involving women or booze. Trapped in the pre-internet purgatory of the beautiful southern landscape, the two bicker, play, ruminate their stations in life, and paint endless yellow lines on a charred road to nowhere.

        Those expecting the bawdy, broad laughs of Green's recent work would be wise to curb their expectations, but so would those expecting the man to be either purely minimal or even kind of straight-faced. In fact, the precarious balance Green strikes between his two filmic universes is the movie's greatest strength, vacillating from moments of poignancy and heartbreak straight into tension-slicing comedy. It's the kind of tonal tightrope walk that few directors are ready to entertain, and fewer still are capable of concocting; Green hardly misses a step.

        Matching Green's effort behind the camera are his actors in front of it, Hirsch and Rudd developing both their characters and their relationship with an unhurried delicacy. Hirsch might just be America's most under-appreciated young thespian, natural every second he's on screen, but this is Rudd's movie. Uptight, understated, and believably wounded, he carries the emotional core of the film all while keeping the giggles coming, seemingly never in on the joke. Prince Avalanche is a tiny, thinly-plotted little movie, and those requiring either pratfalls or suspense would be advised to pass. Those who take pleasure in well-drawn characters, confident craft, beautiful music, stunning cinematography, and whatever other superlatives you want to throw at it ought to take notice. This is a warm, breezy little gem, and I wanted to give it a hug from first frame to last.

Grade: A- 

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