If you’re a movie fan and like to keep up with new releases, you know perfectly well the mix of joy and dread that comes with late January. Oscar mania’s steady stream of think pieces and overbearing ad campaigns can give you a pleasant buzz for a while, and it’s awesome that for once in the calendar year, there’s a surplus of excellent movies playing at every single theater. But what should you do if you’ve already seen “Her” and “Twelve Years a Slave” twice and the only thing you haven’t shelled out 10 shillings and one of your cats for is “The Legend Of Hercules?”
Well, one thing you could do is check out “Prince Avalanche,” an indie comedy gem with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch that dropped into Netflix’s library in late December. Wikipedia says that it got a U.S. theatrical release in August, where it proceeded to make almost $200,000 at the box office, so… it pretty much counts as a new release. Though at first glance it might look like a direct-to-video paycheck exercise for the two leads—the poster’s “Where The Wild Things Are” typography and bland picture of Rudd and Hirsch smiling in overalls are not encouraging—it’s actually one of the nicest surprises of the season, equal parts funny and profound in that snuggly way we all need sometimes.
That “Prince Avalanche” is more than meets the eye won’t surprise people familiar with its writer and director, David Gordon Green. Some might remember Green for his debut, “George Washington,” a golden-hued Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner that was sort of like if Terrence Malick discovered he had a sense of humor. Others might remember parts of his more famous work, “Pineapple Express,” but I don’t. His career has had its ups and downs, but he’s been successful at both straight-up bro comedy and “Tree of Life”-lite indie fare.
“Prince Avalanche” is the first of Green’s films (that I’m aware of) that straddles both of these genres, and he makes it look easier than he has any right to. Set and filmed in the aftermath of the Bastrop County Complex fire—a massive, month-long forest fire that occurred in Texas in 2011—the film is pretty much a two-man show. Rudd plays Alvin, a road worker tasked with repainting traffic lines after the blaze, and Hirsch plays his girlfriend’s brother Lance, who Alvin has hired to help him. Alvin writes letters to his girlfriend; Lance jerks off a lot. Oh, how will these two ever get along?
But although “Prince Avalanche” sounds like a straightforward story about two men overcoming their differences to form an intimate friendship, it’s more bizarre and distinctive than that. Rudd’s mustachioed nature-phile has pretenses of Thoreauvian dignity that are unlike any other role he’s had, and he makes his character’s intellectual aspirations both hilarious and movingly desperate. Meanwhile, stranded in the woods with no women in sight, Hirsch’s musthing jackrabbit often crosses the line from adolescent horniness into “Shame” territory. These guys are odd, even for an odd couple, and the scenes of their eventual reconciliation and friendship are less “I Love You, Man” than a descent into hazy, lurid playground fun.
At 90 minutes, “Prince Avalanche” is not a demanding watch. It’s not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination—there are a few needlessly artsy flourishes that will get on a lot of people’s nerves, and the amber backlighting of Rudd and Hirsch sometimes threatens to congeal into sap—but it has an unassuming and light touch that few of this season’s Polished Works Of Art attain. It’s like Brew Bakers: higher-end than your standard comfort food, but not something you have to get all worked up over. If you’re already finding the semester’s workload to be a bit overwhelming, a study-break screening of “Prince Avalanche” is the perfect way to refresh.