David Gordon Green has had a fascinatingly checkered career. After some promising early films, his most recent works range from inconsistent (Pineapple Express) to flat out abysmal (Your Highness) but this very funny offbeat buddy comedy is one of the surprise gems of the Sydney Film Festival and a highly competent return to form for the writer-director. Gordon Green was awarded Best Director at 2013 Berlinale and this wonderfully executed tale of broken masculinity and unlikely friendship is strange and unforgettable.
Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are two mismatched road maintenance workers mending an area ravaged by bushfires in 1988. Isolated from their city lives, and sharing very little in common, they find naturally themselves at odds with one another. They repaint lines, install new signage and live off the elements. Every weekend they have time off and while Lance journeys back into the city to party and try and get laid, Alvin enjoys the solitude offered by the job and often stays back alone. Though they are of a different generation, Alvin is about in his early 40’s and Lance in his mid 20’s, they eventually start to develop a bond beyond the woman – Lance’s sister & Alvin’s girlfriend – that united them, and have a series of life-affirming misadventures.
These men are somewhat pathetic and their job is tedious, but their anxieties stem from credible personal drama. They are charred by their lives, but find slivers of relief in their friendship. Their bond forms the backbone of the story, a peacefully meandering journey equipped with odd existential tangents.
This is a consistently hilarious film. Smartly written and driven by dialogue, Gordon Green manages to avoid unnecessarily nasty vulgarity, creating amusing situations through the sharing of outrageous stories, surreal meetings and physical gags. Both Hirsch and Rudd are fantastic in their self-deprecating roles. In the realm of career-best work for both actors. Rudd, in particular, creates laughs purely through his delivery, while Hirsch’s tales of his sexual exploits are cringe-worthy.
I loved the way Prince Avalanche was shot. The charred remains of the beautiful forest form a character in itself, but the patches of greenery and their freshly painted lines are accentuated in colour. Gordon Green has a vision and even an underwater shot of Hirsch swimming through a dirty river has a sense of purpose in the scheme of the narrative.
There are a series of montages throughout the film that are impeccably edited and scored. When Lance leaves for the weekend and Alvin remains behind, his adventures in solitude are conveyed through this brilliant technique. When Lance returns a few days later he tells a lengthy story about his own weekend, which we never see. The vividness of his descriptions and Hirsch’s storytelling ability means that we feel like we have seen all of this unfold. Another montage later in the film involving a lot of substance abuse had the audience in stitches, and is so inventive it is difficult to do it justice in a discussion.
The talents of Gordon Green, Rudd and Hirsch are fully realized in this peculiar story that offers up a deceptively simple narrative, but signposts it with intriguing elements. By informing us about the devastating bushfires this pair are embroiled in a setting that is scorched with sadness, and yet is in the process of being rejuvenated. At this point in their lives, when everything they hold dear is burning down, this escape into the wilderness serves as a catalyst for their individual rejuvenation. The characters are sympathetic, courtesy of the exceptional performances, and it is genuinely hilarious. I have been pining to watch it again immediately.
[rating=4] and a half
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.