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The Quietly Affecting “Prince Avalanche” is Carried by Excellent Performances

August 19, 2013

By John Corrado

Prince Avalanche PosterEarning rave reviews from many critics after playing at Sundance back in January, Prince Avalanche is finely reaching a wider audience and the buzz surrounding the excellent performances of Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch is absolutely deserved.

Already enjoying a limited run across the border, Prince Avalanche opens in Toronto at Cineplex Yonge & Dundas this Friday, and will also be available on demand.  Whether you head out to the theatre or enjoy the film from the comfort of your own home, this one is highly recommended.

The year is 1988 and the backdrop to the story is a stretch of land near Bastrop, Texas that has been all but destroyed by a forest fire.  Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are the clean up crew, reposting the signs along the road and painting the yellow lines that intermittently mark the seemingly endless stretch of pavement that winds between the trees.  They bicker and fight.  They share drinks and talk about their problems, trying to piece back together their broken lives amidst the ravaged remains of the forest.  They are clearly both depressed, but for different reasons, expressing themselves in different ways.

They encounter a truck driver (Lance LeGault) who generously gives them booze and shares what advice he has to offer about women.  When Lance goes away for the weekend, Alvin meets an old lady (Joyce Payne) scavenging through the burned remains of her house, trying desperately to find some physical reminders of who she was.  But aside from these moments, Alvin and Lance are pretty much the only characters who are seen throughout Prince Avalanche, and the women they have left behind are only talked about in conversation.  Alvin’s girlfriend, Lance’s sister Madison, plays an integral role in the story, but she is only heard on the phone through the voice of independent filmmaker Lynn Shelton.

There are moments of offbeat comedy, but the humour in Prince Avalanche never eschews reality.  The dramatic scenes are quite affective, leading up to a finale of small changes that works beautifully for the audience because of how it works for the characters.  The characters are matched by lingering shots of the natural landscape, and the haunting cinematography is enhanced by an enchanting score from Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo.  Adapted from the minimalistic Icelandic film Either Way, Prince Avalanche is also a return to form for director David Gordon Green, who got his start on the independent film circuit before branching off to direct several mainstream comedies.

This is the sort of quietly observant character study that allows us to really care about the people on screen.  Both Alvin and Lance feel like people that we could actually meet in real life, even if we are only with them for the length of the movie.  Paul Rudd is one of the most likeable actors currently working, and he imbues his character with a sense of underlying sadness that fits perfectly alongside the offbeat comedic moments.  At first, Emile Hirsch’s character seems more restless and carefree, but this facade quickly gives away to an equal sense of hurting.  The conversations between them that make up much of Prince Avalanche are perfectly constructed and incredibly involving.

There are many memorable moments between Alvin and Lance, including the scenes when tensions rise between them.  Sometimes what we say to others in anger is a mirror of what we are feeling ourselves, a way to express emotion that would be hard to talk about if we weren’t tearing someone else down for feeling the same way.  The section of barren highway that stretches out around them becomes a touching metaphor for where they are in their lives.  They will slip back if they don’t keep moving forward, but the landscape ahead of them might not be much different than the tress and rocks that they have passed getting to this moment.  All they can do is continue going down the road, finding small ways to make sense of their lives.

During the film, it’s impossible not to find relatable moments in the deceptively simple journey of the characters.  These touching realizations make Prince Avalanche a quietly affective film, an entertaining and emotionally honest character study that is carried by beautifully naturalistic performances from Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch.

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