SXSW Review: Prince Avalanche


Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche

Seeing Bastrop State Park after the 2011 wildfires inspired director David Gordon Green to make a movie there, and he already had a title given to him in a dream: Prince Avalanche.  A friend recommended he see an Icelandic film called Either Way, and the concept for this film was found. Prince Avalanche was shot, under the radar, in 16 days at the devastated park.

Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch star as mismatched road workers in Central Texas in 1988, cleaning up after fire has beseiged the area. Rudd's Alvin is uptight and in a long-distance relationship with the sister of Lance (Hirsch). Lance is slightly feckless; Alvin has brought him to this job to help him grow, but they aren't really getting along. They share a tent and are limited to the company of one another, except for the few times they are visited by a friendly older truck driver (Lance LeGault in his final film role).

Their solitude is punctuated by a score from David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky and the hauntingly beautiful broken landscape surrounding them. Lance and Alvin complete repetitive tasks as we learn more about them: painting lines on the road, installing posts on the side of the road, and such.

The weekend Lance goes home, Alvin camps on his own (his is the character who says, "I reap the rewards of solitude.") and walks among the skeletons of burned houses in the area.  He stumbles upon a woman in amongst the ashes (who may or may not be a ghost? I was confused by this) who tells him, "Sometimes I feel like I'm digging in my own ashes." This woman is Bastrop resident Joyce Payne at her own ruined house, who said that working on this film served as therapy after losing her home in the 2011 fires.

During the Q&A after the film, director Green talked about the "melancholy elements" of the movie and how the cast and crew put their "emotional fingerprint" on Prince Avalanche to make it different from the Icelandic original. Green's film gives Rudd a chance to play something different from his recent film work. Some may be surprised at his dramatic chops, but my first intro to Rudd was on the network drama Sisters (wait, am I admitting this?), so I knew he had it in him.  Hirsch is wonderful as well in his portrayal of dopey Lance. With these actors anchoring the movie, Prince Avalanche is subtle, charming and heartbreaking.

Austin connections: Prince Avalanche was shot in Central Texas; David Wingo is a local musician. Co-producer Berndt Mader is an Austin filmmaker (Five Time Champion) and David Gordon Green currently resides here as well.

Prince Avalanche screens again at SXSW on Thursday, March 14, 9 pm at Topfer Theatre at ZACH (screening info).