Flix is a weekly series that reviews a movie available on Netflix. This week, I review the 2013 film “Prince Avalanche.”
Movies have the astonishing ability to breathe life into the most mundane aspects of the world around us. Movies can take subject matter most people would never even think about and make them relevant. An exceptionally good movie can even use a mundane subject matter as a vessel for social commentary or even philosophical inquiries. And in a time when these meticulously clever films are becoming exceedingly rare, the 2013 film “Prince Avalanche” stands out as a film that uses an esoteric subject matter to examine society and the human experience.
“Prince Avalanche” follows industrious, stern Alvin (played by a mustached Paul Rudd) and young, dopey Lance (played by Emile Hirsch in a role reminiscent of Chris McCandless in “Into the Wild”) as they spend the summer repainting traffic lines on an isolated country highway Ñ a rather literal metaphor for their emotional distance. Although the concept may sound dull, the two characters’ interactions, which strike the fine balance between sarcastic comedy and meditative drama, carry the story and make the film enthralling to watch.
The film’s simple, character-based storyline gives it a “Waiting for Godot” vibe. Admittedly, little really happens in the story. And most of what does happen occurs offscreen, like a scene in which Lance goes home for the weekend only to return with a black eye and pent-up frustration. But the film’s lack of onscreen action doesn’t necessarily take away from its story. The conversations Alvin and Lance have as they share their summer in a secluded forest highlight their characters’ depth and realism. As they discuss their personal fears, dreams, insecurities, uncertainties and disappointments, the audience feels deeply for these characters and their strifes. Their rare chance encounters with rather strange passersby really accentuate their isolation and inability to integrate into society.
Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch both give strong performances as the film’s two leads. Rudd comports his character with a natural combination of sternness and awkwardness that makes Alvin plaintive, yet lovable. Rudd’s character is definitely a breakaway from his previous roles, which mainly consist of his playing man-child characters in Judd Apatow movies.
Hirsch, a young face who has been on the indie circuit for quite some time, gives a frank portrayal as the naive millennial Lance. Hirsch conducts his character with a clumsiness and absent-mindedness that highlights his character’s young, inexperienced nature. Although Lance may come off as unlikeable early in the film, his character development and realization of his insecurities and flaws makes him a deeply relatable character.
Writer and director David Gordon Green (who is probably best known for directing “Pineapple Express”) has clearly envisioned a particular aesthetic for his film. The movie maintains a polished aesthetic that both adds lightness to the story and invigorates the film’s atmosphere. Its use of saturated primary colors adds this dimension of subtle playfulness to the characters’ interactions. At times, “Prince Avalanche” even comes off as a Wes Anderson movie because of its vibrant color scheme. The film’s cinematography, utilizing hand-held camera work, makes the characters’ interactions more intimate; the cinematography actually makes the viewer feel like a member of the conversation.
The brilliant post-rock band Explosions in the Sky provides the film’s instrumental soundtrack. Their short interludes in between conversations punctuate the serenity of the film’s atmosphere.
“Prince Avalanche” is a film whose characters and atmosphere are enough to enthrall the audience for two hours. Despite its humor, the film is more than just a buddy comedy; rather, the film is about two strangers developing an emotional kinship through rather unusual circumstances. “Prince Avalanche” is the kind of movie that could inspire one to take a long, pensive walk with a close friend.