Reviews

David Gordon Green

USA, 2013

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 07 May 2013

Source digital projection

Categories The 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston

I haven’t seen Either Way, the Icelandic film that provided the basis for David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche, but I imagine that it’s a strange little picture. Prince Avalanche certainly is. Set in the late 1980s, it tells the shaggy dog story of Alvin and Lance, who are working to repair the roads in a national park following devastating wildfires. Alvin and Lance’s personalities and priorities clash from the outset: Alvin is serious, focused on earning money to send home to his girlfriend (accompanied by moony love letters), while the younger Lance obsesses over his desire to go into town and pick up women. Yet while that initial conflict feels a little familiar, and a little flat, Prince Avalanche manages to charm by taking some unexpected turns.

After Lance gets his wish and sets off for his adventures in town, leaving Alvin behind, the film zigs into welcome weirdness. The audience stays in the woods with Alvin, and the picture surges suddenly to life with some stunning nature footage and a surging soundtrack. (I’m still thinking about an oddly mesmerizing shot of a green caterpillar inching along, seemingly in time with the film’s music.). Alvin also has a trippy encounter with an old woman who claims to be looking for her pilot’s license in the ruins of a burnt-out house. Half the time he speaks to her, we can’t see Alvin’s lips move, and when she responds anyway, it’s as if she’s reading his thoughts. The sequence raises some questions that Green never really bothers to answer, but in a way it’s just a pleasure to be wrong-footed, unsure of where the film is headed next.

Nevertheless, Prince Avalanche can feel overly self-conscious as it progresses. To wit: when Lance returns, more is revealed about both characters, and they end up having the type of fight that only indie film characters have, with one of them smearing improvised war paint on his face and the other taking a tragicomic leap from a cliff that’s much too low to kill him. While lead actors Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch have fun with the absurd material, your mileage may vary, and those with a low threshold for quirkiness might want to sidestep this one altogether.

Not every thread taken up by the film pays off, and that may part of the point. Green invokes a famously anticlimactic joke with one of the last shots in the film: children holding some chickens by a roadside. (The film’s production company is also called “To Get to the Other Side Productions.”) Prince Avalanche may not quite have a punchline, and it left me a bit more bemused than beguiled, but I heard it mentioned with fondness throughout the rest of the film festival where it played, and I too remember it with general goodwill. It’s worthy of the cult affection it seems destined to attract.

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