David Gordon Green takes a weed break with ‘Prince Avalanche’

Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd play bickering construction workers in "Prince Avalanche." Credit: Magnolia Pictures
Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd play bickering construction workers in “Prince Avalanche.”
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

‘Prince Avalanche’
Director: David Gordon Green
Stars: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

Like some of us, filmmaker David Gordon Green’s tastes run wide. He’s obviously in love with Terrence Malick, but he also wrote the enthusiastic foreword to “Seagalogy,” an epic, film-by-film doorstop study of Steven Seagal. His segue from Malick copycat to director of stoner comedies may have been unexpected, but it illustrated an even less expected development: The magnificent “George Washington” excepted, his weed films (“Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness,” plus “The Sitter”) are in many ways superior to his serious ones (“All the Real Girls,” “Undertow” and “Snow Angels”).

The two extremes of Green’s personality are nearly balanced in “Prince Avalanche,” which is at once a bros-before-hos dude comedy and a hypnotic, melancholic portrayal of solitude. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play construction workers spending their summer as nearly the only crew repairing a wooded stretch of highway in central Texas that was destroyed by wildfire. Rudd, with mustache, is comically serious; Hirsch, with shaggy ‘70s locks, is comically not. They inevitably bicker, especially once Hirsch’s sister, whom Rudd was dating, dumps him.

Rudd envisions himself as something he’s not. His facial hair is not Williamsburg hipster, but an antiquated idea of what a man should be. At heart he’s as much a boy as Hirsch, who often ditches or half-asses his duties and wants no more than to party. Hirsch, too, has a false self-image — he’s more of a sadsack than he’d ever admit. (A talented actor whose career was unfairly harmed by “Speed Racer,” Hirsch has never given a more filled-out, satisfying turn.) The chief sense of fun comes from watching them discombobulate, eventually with the aid of drink.

Loosely based on the Icelandic film “Either Way,” it’s a strange hybrid in which slovenly, borderline-Judd Apatow behavior alternates with lengthy takes of men at work in nature. Where Rudd and Hirsch are clearly improvising, so is Green, who writes with the camera. Every time “Prince Avalanche” threatens to tumble into indie cliches, Green pulls it back to something more abstract. Similarly, every time it threatens to OD on nature watching, the script pulls it back to traditional indie territory. It’s a film of odd rhythms and textures, and one — like its two heroes — at war with itself in enjoyable and productive ways. In a way, it’s the movie Green should have been making from the start, though at least he got here.


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