What happens when Paul Rudd stops playing Paul Rudd
After the forest fires that destroyed much of the southwest this past year David Gordon Green wanted to make a movie set in the charred forests and ruined homes of the aftermath. What resulted was Prince Avalanche a film not about the fires themselves, but epitomizing them through its characters, location and story.
More interesting is the fact that Paul Rudd finally gets a chance to play someone else than Paul Rudd. A daring move for the actor who is routinely cast as himself made even doubly so by the fact that he only has Emile Hirsch to play off of for most of the film. Can the two actors pull off a comedy that's more subtle than Rudd's normal fair and more comedic than Hirsch's?
[This review was originally posted as part of our South by Southwest 2013 coverage and reposted with an additional opinion for our 2013 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]
What's really impressive about Prince Avalance is just how subtle it is in how it balances drama and comedy. Most of the film could be interpreted as lighthearted, but behind everything is a powerful story packed full of emotions that aren't explained outright, but are constantly boiling underneath the films comedic exterior. There's a palpable sense of character and nuance behind the comedy that elevates the film above your standard high comedy.\
The story lends itself to this. Set after a fictional forest fire in Texas in 1987 the movie is the story of Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch). Alvin has taken a job repainting road lines after the fire in a remote part of Texas and hired Lance, his girlfriend's brother, as a favor to her. The movie follows them as they paint lines and camp out and their lives open up in front of us through their conversations and interactions. This isn't a fast movie as all movement comes from conversations about the things in their life occurring and not actually showing what occurs. Everything is framed by the charred forest and ruined homes caused by the forest fires, and the scenery and story inform each other incredibly.
This does mean that the film moves a bit slower than your average fare and it can feel like it's dragging here and there. Thankfully Rudd and Hirsch are easily at the top of their game throughout delivering nuanced performances that garner laughs, but deliver more underneath. In fact most of their laughs aren't pulled from gags or jokes, but from some truly impeccable timing on behalf of both actors. It's great that it works since the two of them are the only people on screen for the majority of the time; there performances only interrupted by Lance LeGault who plays an almost mythical country truck driver that prompts much of the growth of the two characters, and, metaphorically, the surrounding countryside.
However, the best part of the film is with the movie's fourth performer who is an actual resident that the crew found sifting around her destroyed home. She gave Rudd, in character, a tour of the her house and it is absolutely heartbreaking. Director David Gordon Green admitted that the scene wasn't even in the original film, which is simply unfathomable once you see it as it seemingly drives both the narrative and the theme forward perfectly. It's one of those scenes that simply makes a movie.
Prince Avalanche is probably Rudd's best comedy in a while since it isn't a comedy in itself. It's also an impressively simple film that hits all the right notes between drama and humor while telling the story of a devastated area of our country without explicitly telling it. By doing this it avoids heavy handedness and hits the core of its themes all the better.
Hubert Vigilla: There may be two camps on Prince Avalanche by the time of its theatrical release: some will find it exceptional thanks to its insight into male loneliness while others will find it insufferable because of its extreme quirkiness. These two poles may be exemplified in the unique contradictions (in a good way) of Paul Rudd's character: a staunch and condescending outdoorsy-type who loves his me-time, takes everything he does too seriously, and sports a mustache reminiscent of Magnum P.I. or Werner Herzog circa 1981.
I'm somewhere in between these extremes since there's a fair amount to admire in Prince Avalanche, much of it thanks to Rudd, who carries most of the picture on his shoulders. Rudd plays against type, while Emile Hirsch works as a foil to that character. It's the classic straight man and funny guy set-up for a comedy duo. Their dialogue expresses the bitterness of two opposites thrown together, but there's a sense that this enmity may grow into mutual understanding and respect. Explosions in the Sky was involved with the score, so that's cool too.
But Prince Avalanche is a fairly routine/predictable buddy story. We all know what happens when a guy who needs to loosen up is paired with a dim-witted-but-well-meaning free spirit for an hour and a half. (The journey not the destination; yeah, yeah, sure.) Writer/director David Gordon Green frames this familiar plot in metaphors about rebuilding, relationships, and things lost forever. It's effective in spurts when driven by the performances. Sometimes the meditations on these themes get lost in the film's tonal shifts and moments of indulgence, however, which leads to occasional bouts of navel gazing. 59 -- Average