'Prince Avalanche': David Gordon Green's Quiet Comedy

Lance and Alvin's conversation forms the film's action, such as it is, and on occasion, when even this fades into silence, Prince Avalanche offers its most compelling moments.

Prince Avalanche

Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne
Rated: R
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-08-09 (Limited release)
UK date: 201310-18 (General release)

David Gordon Green made his name as a director with small, lyrical movies like George Washington (2000) and All the Real Girls (2003). Since then, he's moved on to bigger-budget, incident-filled fare like The Sitter and Pineapple Express. During this transition, Green maintained the trademarks of his indie movies -- for example, beautiful visual compositions, with the help of longtime cinematographer Tim Orr -- but Prince Avalanche still feels like a return to an earlier version of Green, when his movies were much quieter.

Based loosely on Icelandic film Either Way (Á annan veg), Prince Avalanche focuses on just two characters: Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are a mismatched pair doing roadwork in a woodsy, fire-damaged area of Texas in 1988. Alvin hires Lance out of loyalty to his unseen girlfriend -- Lance's sister -- but apart from the one familial connection, the two share no common ground.

Lance bristles at the loneliness of their surroundings and looks forward to the weekend when he can head to town for parties and women; Alvin, who considers himself an intellectual, appreciates the solitude of the forest and enjoys writing letters and living off the land. Together, they paint yellow lines in the street, hammer posts into the side of the road, share nights in the same tent, and, occasionally, talk about what's been bothering them in their lives.

Their testy conversation forms the film's action, such as it is, and on occasion, when even this fades into silence, Prince Avalanche offers its most compelling moments. A pre-titles montage shows Alvin and Lance getting ready for their workday, a weekend Alvin spends alone fishing, camping, and then again, digging through rubble while Lance is in town. The images remind us of Green's earlier work, as wide shots of Texas landscapes are simultaneously beautiful and burned out, while feeling almost dreamlike. This feeling is recalled throughout the film by music from Texas band Explosion in the Sky and composer David Wingo that almost sounds like a contemporary Tangerine Dream.

The feeling also informs the plot, which is less eventful than capricious. Alvin and Lance's limited contact with other people suggests a dream's illogic: an odd, unnamed truck driver, played by Lance LeGault, shows up at random to give the boys moonshine, and a sad woman (Joyce Payne) appears briefly rifling through the remains of her old house. Each encounter is so offbeat and isolated that afterward it's possible to question the reality of the interactions. "Sometimes I feel like I'm digging in my own ashes," the woman says, as if searching for proof of her own existence.

But even as such episodes might seem bleak, Prince Avalanche remains resiliently funny. If there's one thing Green has carried over from Pineapple Express and Your Highness, it's silliness. This even as the new movie also resists the conventional aspects of that lesson: it may be painted with the same buddy-comedy brush as those films, but the description would be inaccurate here, since Alvin and Lance never develop a friendship. Instead of a movie where two people learn to accept the flaws in each other, Prince Avalanche is a movie about two people inhabiting the same space who learn to accept the flaws in themselves, even if these flaws are made up. Lance observes that they're both "old fatties" (not true), Alvin minces his way through what an intellectual's vision of an outdoorsman would be, and both argue about the "equal time agreement" on their shared boombox and chase each other around the woods. It's some of the most enjoyable bickering ever put to screen.

The arguments help to build a rhythm in Prince Avalanche, punctuating the quieter moments and shaping the relationship. Both Lance and Alvin repeat the phrase, "Can't we just enjoy the silence?", usually when they don't want to answer a question. But sometimes, questions are best left unanswered. And with Prince Avalanche, David Gordon Green shows us that yes, we definitely can just enjoy the silence.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.