Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch starring opposite one another in an 80’s set dramedy about labourers painting a road is a peculiar proposition. A proposition that gets more peculiar by virtue of its director, David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) and its score, composed by instrumental indie rock demi-Gods Explosions In The Sky.
It’s clear that all involved, particularly Rudd and Green, are doing a bit of re-invention here; moving away from mainstream comedy into distinctly indie melancholic territory. The film is, after all, a remake of Icelandic film Either Way (Á annan veg). Does it work? Not really.
Rudd plays Alvin, a man who enjoys his solitude and takes pride in his pragmatism – the sort of guy who can tie knots and differentiate between mammals’ mating calls; a pseudo-man’s man. As a favour to his wife (whom he’s having troubles with) he agrees to take her younger brother along with him for a summer job spent painting road markings through a remote part of Texas.
Lance the brother in question, played by Hirsch, is a compulsive, impatient and naïve youth – all character traits that create a steady flow of friction between the two as they go about their work. Disappointingly this use of the “odd couple” as a central narrative device is far too much of a familiar cliché to allow the film to be truly entertaining or emotive. Quite simply, it’s been done before and it’s been done before better.
This said, Rudd and Hirsch deliver fine performances and carry the modest 94 minute running time of the feature almost entirely on their own backs. The pair’s bickering feels genuine and the relationship they slowly build up, while somewhat contrived and derivative, is at least believable and occasionally touching – particularly when their women troubles both come to a fore.
Underneath the surface of this character study however is quite a messy, confused and ultimately side-lined commentary on a natural disaster (a fire) that occurred in Texas during the 80s. The opening titles suggest that the effects of this terrible fire will be the focus of the film. Aside from a scene with a woman, or perhaps the ghost of a woman, searching through the rubble of her old home this is hardly touched upon again. This omission is at best peculiar, at worst plain untidy.
It’s inconsistencies like this which are at the heart of Prince Avalanche’s failings, however slight they may be. The film’s unfortunately unable to capture the delicate balancing act between humour and tragedy that’s essential to the joys of the genre. All too often they’re segregated from one another, with certain scenes clearly demarcated as “funny” and others as “sad” in a way which feels inconsistent.
Unfortunately Gordon Green isn’t able to merge the two in a graceful fashion, certainly not in the ways that say an Anderson, a Baumbach or a Kaufman film might. Instead, Prince Avalanche precariously wobbles to and fro between the two – never quite touching upon either. This, in conjunction with the familiar narrative set up makes for a film that, in spite of good performances, a pleasing aesthetic and a great moustache on Rudd, is ultimately quite forgettable.
Prince Avalanche opens at UK cinemas on Friday, 18th October, 2013.