DVD Release Date: November 12, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: August 9, 2013
Rating: R for some sexual content
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 94 min. 
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne, Gina Grande

"You never know when miracles happen," says a nameless woman during a surreal scene in director David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche. For some viewers, the line might capture their reaction to Green’s latest film—a major comeback for a filmmaker who established himself as an arthouse auteur before shifting to raucous comedies that were difficult to distinguish from the more outrageous comedies of the new millennium.

Prince Avalanche bridges Green's previous material. It retains the natural beauty and quieter approach of the director's George Washington and All the Real Girls, but has moments of laugh-out-loud comedy closer in spirit to Green's Pineapple Express and The Sitter. The combination does not always sit easy, but despite a few puzzling sequences, Prince Avalanche is unique and oddly life-affirming.

The title sequence doesn't arrive until a few minutes into the film's running time, and even then we're shown only the title of the movie, not its cast. Therefore, viewers could be forgiven for not immediately recognizing an older, heavier Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) or an oddly coiffed Paul Rudd (Admission). They play Lance (Hirsch) and Alvin (Rudd), road-line painters working a stretch of pavement in a burned-out Texas forest.

Things aren’t going well between the two men. In voiceover, we learn Lance is the brother of Alvin's girlfriend, Madison. However, Lance isn't as focused on his job as Alvin would like him to be. "I think he has a learning disability," writes Alvin to Madison. Why else, Alvin wonders, would Lance not know how to tie a knot or gut a fish?

But Lance has his own insights into Alvin, whose high-strung supervision, Lance senses, is masking inner turmoil. Lance's suspicions are confirmed after he peeks at Alvin's stash of letters from Madison: She's had it with Alvin and wants out.

Prince Avalanche, based on the Icelandic film Either Way, is a simple story of two men with different lives learning to work together as they confront their fears and weaknesses. But director Green grounds that basic story in wordless sequences of natural beauty and, in a couple of cases, touching yet otherworldly encounters between Alvin and a woman searching the ruins of a burned down home. Characters discuss miracles and the ability to "do things that aren't really possible"—indications that there may be something more at work in their lives, that Someone or something bigger might be at work around, in or through them.

That's not to call Prince Avalanche a parable, or claim it is overtly religious. Rather, it is, on one level, an engaging character-driven drama about two men who viewers will understand better than the characters understand themselves. But Green deftly challenges viewer assumptions by pointing beyond the predictable dramatic qualities of the story and forcing them, like his characters, to contemplate their lives in the light of forces not entirely within their control. He also adds doses of humor to offset the heavier themes and mystical qualities of the story (not to mention some extended, dialogue-free montages that feel longer than they ought to be).

Not everything works in Prince Avalanche, but its oddness makes for a unique viewing experience. It's a major comeback for Green, who has found a way to marry his arthouse instincts with the appeal of commercial comedies. It's a strange bird, and its strangeness is its great strength.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; “god-amn”; discussion of “getting laid” and “getting the little man squeezed”; sexual references; “sack of crap”; middle finger extended
  • Drinking/Smoking: A trucker gives Lance and Alvin beer and liquor; a man smokes and is said to “look stupid”; a longing to “get drunk for three months”; Alvin and Lance try to paint lines in the road while drunk; a character says he has a lot of prescription medications but tries not to use them
  • Sex/Nudity: Lance tells Alvin he wants to meet women on the weekend and have sex; a man is shown masturbating in a sleeping bag; Lance tries to discuss the pre-marital sex life of Alvin’s girlfriend; discussion of sexual intimacies and recollection of sex with a woman; a trucker says a man should never sleep with a woman more than three times; discussion of pregnancy and possible abortion
  • Violence/Crime: An animal carcass is fried in a pan; a dead turtle is shown, crushed, in the road
  • Religion/Morals/Marriage: A verbal reference to life being “sometimes heaven, sometimes hell”; Alvin says he couldn’t pursue women on Sunday because everyone was at church; a couple of mention of “miracles” happening

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

Publication date: August 16, 2013