The scorched wilderness outside Bastrop, Texas, provides the backdrop for David Gordon Green's newest film, Prince Avalanche. It's a languid and fun summer movie about two men, Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch), who've been tasked with painting yellow lines down the center of a deserted rural road. The film's lush backdrops, and its focus on the temporary rapport between flawed but sympathetic characters, make it more of a summer movie than any superheroes-and-explosions blockbuster could hope to be.
Alvin, who has high-minded and ridiculous ideas about being an outdoorsman who can "reap the rewards of solitude," has recruited Lance, his girlfriend's younger brother, to work on a two-man team that's restoring backwoods Texas roads in the summer of 1988. (The wildfire responsible for the film's eerily gorgeous landscape actually occurred in 2011, and was the worst in Texas' history). In contrast to Alvin, Lance is a hapless, sulky, egotistical slacker who's singularly focused on getting laid, be it by his friend's girlfriend, a failed beauty queen, or a solitary middle-aged woman, all of whom we hear a lot about, but none of whom we ever see.
While Prince Avalanche has all of the hilarious moments you'd expect from such an odd-couple pairing, its slow pacing and undertone of isolation make it more than just a silly post-apocalyptic comedy (hi, This Is the End). While Alvin and Lance grow closer together with the help of another road worker and his ample supply of moonshine, you never get the sense that the two will become the best of friends. They're summer coworkers who, for better or worse, are trapped in a limbo demarcated by yellow road paint, and only have each other for companionship.
While he's best known for directing more madcap comedies, like Pineapple Express and Eastbound and Down, his debut film, George Washington, had a similar reverence for the landscape and small stories of the South. Green was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but grew up playing in the creeks behind his childhood home outside of Dallas. The film gives you a sense of his childhood connection to wilderness, with long shots of creeping caterpillars, flowing streams, singed pines, and the burnt remains of homes. Green's South is equal parts magical and real. His only great misstep is the placement of text over one long scene, which breaks the hypnotic tone of the film, and is way too twee.
Rudd and Hirsch's performances start out goofy, but are an excellent fit for their respective characters. One gets the impression that some of the climactic scenes were improvised, including a joyful, sloppy, and drunken duet between Alvin and Lance, in which they try to craft a song about a "bad connection." (The rest of the film's atmospheric soundtrack was contributed by the band Explosions in the Sky, which hails from nearby Austin. You can give it a listen here.)
Prince Avalanche is a quiet, funny, and beautiful antidote to summer screens full of fast cars and expensive graphics. Even though it's set in the summer in Texas, Green's character-driven film is coolly refreshing.
Prince Avalanche premieres August 9.