Filmmaker David Gordon Green earned his indie stripes with poetic, character-driven movies such as “George Washington,” “All the Real Girls,” and “Snow Angels” before taking on the mixed bag of commercial projects that includes “Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness,” and “The Sitter.” “Prince Avalanche” may be just a pet project between bigger gigs (IMDB.com reports Green is in post-production on a remake of the schlock horror classic “Suspiria”), but it’s a surprisingly humorous and humane film — a lyrical little oddity that stands as a welcome return to form.
“Prince Avalanche” is a remake of a 2011 Icelandic film “Either Way,” about two mismatched road administration employees working the hinterlands in the 1980s. Judging from clips of the original, Green’s version seems pretty faithful. The writer-director, who now lives in Austin, transfers the setting to the barren Texas wilderness, destroyed by wildfires in 1988. It provides the film with a haunting setting for his “Waiting for Godot”-like character study. Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are spending the summer painting bright yellow traffic lines down country roads that are truly in the middle of nowhere. Alvin is the project veteran; he takes the job and himself seriously and thinks the discipline will be good for the immature Lance, who is the brother of Alvin’s girlfriend.
In this almost spooky place, the two argue, joke, and repair a road while their own lives are in a shambles. Alvin writes letters and sends money to his girlfriend but prefers the solitude of the decimated forest, while Lance can’t wait for the weekend so he can head to town to pursue an ex-girlfriend. Alvin elects to stay — “I could use the down time,” he claims. He reads, fishes, and practices his German for a trip we know will never happen. His encounter with an elderly woman (Joyce Payne) at her burned-out home where she picks remnants of her life from the ashes is surreal and quietly moving. The solitude is also upended by another unexpected meeting, this time with an old truck driver (Lance LeGault) who supplies Alvin and Lance with hooch, triggering a drunken spree.
The performances, particularly Rudd’s, are first-rate. The soundtrack by the rock band Explosions in the Sky and collaborator David Wingo, along with Tim Orr’s lush cinematography, gives “Prince Avalanche” a meditative quality that’s as hypnotic as the yellow lines that spit onto the concrete.