Centered around the most destructive fire in the history of Texas, Prince Avalanche is a story that parallels the wreckage of said wildfire on an emotional level. Although this event took place in Bastrop County in September of 2011, the film is set in the summer of 1988. Alvin (Paul Rudd) has taken on the job of repainting the road and replacing other traffic related markers destroyed in the fire's wake. As a favor to his girlfriend, Madison, he hires her brother, Lance (Emile Hirsch, who has something of a Joaquin Phoenix way about him), to help him. The two forge a bond that occurs only after a series of denials, arguments and general contention.
Alvin’s stoicism is in direct opposition to Lance’s fun-loving, adventure-seeking nature. David Gordon Green (best known for All The Real Girls and Pineapple Express) adapted the script from an Icelandic work entitled Either Way. His ability to imbue the screenplay with bare bones dialogue and a minimalist setting to match is remarkable to watch play out onscreen. The controlled performances of both Rudd and Hirsch complement one another seamlessly, while the static backdrop of ravaged Texan land punctuates a sense of restlessness and uncertainty.
As Alvin writes letters to Madison and attempts to learn German for when they ultimately move there together, Lance does his best not to lose his mind over sexual frustration. The only other person they encounter in the woods is an old man (Lance LeGault) who advises Lance to go into town to try to find himself a lady. Lance already has a girl named Peggy Johnston in mind to “squeeze the little man,” as he refers to it. The only problem is, Peggy is already spoken for by one of Lance’s friends, Kip (it doesn’t get more 80s than that in terms of guys’ names). Regardless, Lance sets off for the weekend on a mission to get laid.
In Lance’s absence, Alvin entertains himself by cooking various roadkill and talking to an old woman he encounters who busies herself among the ruins of her home. She laments that now that all of her possessions have been burned, there is nothing to prove her accomplishments or even her existence. It is a strange, yet valid point to be made, particularly in American culture, wherein we are defined but what we have amassed. Alvin eventually grows weary of talking to her and goes off on his own jaunt, involving quite a bit of talking to himself.
When Lance returns, there is an aura of jadedness about him. Dressed in a lab coat and wearing sunglasses, he somberly exits the car and, when probed by Alvin about his weekend, asks if they can just “enjoy the silence.” After a while, he finally admits that nothing happened between him and Peggy Johnston apart from making out because Kip caught them leaving the bedroom at a party together. He then removes his sunglasses to reveal a black eye. Feeling sympathy for his plight, Alvin sardonically offers, “In your own mind, you really do see yourself as a gentleman, don’t you?”
In spite of Alvin’s exhibited devotion to Madison--emphasized by a letter he writes to her featuring the aphorism, “True love is like a ghost: People talk about it, but very few have actually seen it”--she still ends up breaking up with him. This information wreaks havoc upon his fragile heart, leaving only Lance to pick up the pieces. Instead of consoling him, however, he tells Alvin that it was deserved, that he’s never actually there for Madison. Outraged by Lance’s accusation, Alvin attempts to get in a fight with him, but it only leads to getting drunk and growing closer (god, male friendships are so much simpler than female ones).
Prince Avalanche is a breath of fresh air, proving that you don’t need more than a $60,000 budget to make a memorable, meaningful movie. It is also a testament to how an environment can reflect our own emotions back to us—much to our dismay. Plus, it’s been awhile since a truly great story about male bonding has been released (I would even venture to say not since Grumpy Old Men).