A good day for indie film, a bad day for snarky review taglines…
Director David Gordon Green has had quite an interesting career trajectory. Starting in low budget, subtle indie dramas, such as George Washington and All The Real Girls, he then had a surprise studio hit with the action comedy Pineapple Express. It seemed as if this is where he would settle because he followed this with much less successful, but still mainstream, comedies like Your Highness and The Sitter (along with directing multiple episodes of the great Eastbound and Down). Now, he’s back to being much closer to his roots with an indie dramedy that he secretly filmed in three weeks time. But, did he make the right decision going back with this loose adaptation of Icelandic film Either Way?
It’s 1988 in the wilderness of Texas and highway workers Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsche) spend their days painting lines on the roads and hammering in posts after wildfires wrecked the area. Unfortunately, they are forced to spend their nights sharing a tent that’s not quite big enough for the both of them. Other than the fact that Alvin has hired Lance out of loyalty to his girlfriend, who just happens to be Lance’s sister, the two have absolutely nothing in common. Alvin is dedicated to his job and enjoys the isolation (perhaps because he’s afraid to face whatever may or may not be waiting for him back home) and Lance is a young man who can’t wait to spend his weekends pursuing women. As with any situation where polar opposites are forced to spend so much time together, much of why they don’t get along could be put down to a secret desire to be more like the other.
Besides Alvin and Lance, there are only two other on-screen speaking roles. Lance LeGault (in his final role) as a trucker and Joyce Payne (credited only as “Lady”) as a woman dealing with the ashes of her recently burned home both give very brief, but excellent performances. This means that the majority (by a long shot) of the heavy lifting must be done by Rudd and Hirsch, and they both give their best performances in years. Rudd, like his director, is also on loan of late from raunchy comedies and it’s nice to see him take on a weightier role. He gives Alvin quite a bit of nuance and conveys the loneliness and desperation needed to make the role successful. Hirsche is able to deftly balance his character’s lighter moments, along with several instances where the script requires him to go into darker places. The chemistry between the two is what really holds the film together – if you’re not drawn in by these characters, there’s really not much here for you. Their “bad connection” is solidified in a charming and funny scene in which they engage in a drunken session of impromptu songwriting.
In an interesting approach, we never actually see anything of their lives outside of work. Alvin spends his weekends off by remaining in the woods alone and writing letters to his girlfriend in, what is hinted at being, a one-sided relationship. Lance, of course, spends his weekends by going into town, but we’re only privy to the information and stories that he shares with Alvin upon his return. Besides being, one can only assume, a budgetary decision, this approach also helps create a sense of isolation and vulnerability for the two, along with the realization for the audience that they are most at home in this environment. It’s obvious, even before it’s discussed, that both characters have found an escape in those woods from something that they may not want to face in the real world.
As with any David Gordon Green film, both mainstream and indie, one of the greatest aspects is the cinematography. He, along with longtime cinematographer Tim Orr, are always able to create visual compositions that are not only beautiful to look at, but compliment the mood of the individual story, and this film is no exception. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the wilderness is both beautiful and surreal, giving much of the film a dreamlike quality, complimented well by the music from composer David Wingo. You may even find yourself wondering if one, or both, of the two supporting roles could be figments of the main characters’ imaginations, or, more particularly, extensions of their own psyches. It’s not necessarily resolved as such, but it’s a viewpoint that could provide for interesting discussion after watching the film.
If I’ve been a bit vague on the story, it’s because, frankly there isn’t a whole lot there plot-wise, which may be a problem for some viewers. This movie is strictly a character examination, and the slow patches could cause some to lose patience. There are many moments of silence that do require some “reading between the lines” on the part of the viewer in order for those patches to add to the piece, but if you go along with them, I think you’ll find your appreciation of the film to be greater. It’s in these stretches that you’ll find much of the weight.
JASON’S FINAL THOUGHTS:
Pineapple Express notwithstanding, this film shows that David Gordon Green is much more in his element in these smaller, character-driven pieces. Equal parts funny and dramatic, this is a very engaging study of two men that you’ll see much of yourself in. If you can get past the lack of story and action, I think you’ll find Prince Avalanche to be a very rewarding experience. While we can forgive him for wanting to take on jobs that pay the bills, let’s hope that Green continues to balance studio films with more personal pieces like this one. He certainly won me over.
Review by Jason Howard. Special to Influx Magazine