Director David Gordon Green Stars Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch USA 2013 Language English 1hr 34mins Colour
Hear the one about the two guys painting a road?
This is a story about three films.
1. The first one I saw at the Metro, or maybe it was called The Other Cinema by then, anyway it was on Rupert Street, just off Piccadilly Circus. Of London’s many lost cinemas, it was one of the least memorable architecturally, just a couple of screens in a basement. But they showed terrific films there – it was good for movies that eased you down to their pace, drew you in. So it was just the place to watch All The Real Girls, one of those classic American indie movies where not a whole lot seems to happen, but that’s fine. It’s a lovely portrait of one of those rusty forgotten corners of America – there’s dirt-track racing in this film – shot with a brilliant Malickian eye.
2. The second I watched in my flat. Your Highness was maybe the last film I rented from the now defunct Blockbuster in Crystal Palace*. A stoner comedy about a questing mediaeval prince (see, hilarious title!), it’s one of the worst films ever made. And I say that as someone who has a high tolerance, or maybe that’s a weakness, for stoner comedies.
I think movies can be pretty much any amount stupid, puerile, generally numbskulled as long as they are funny. Your Highness is not funny. Not for a second. There’s a huge, aching chasm in it where the humour should be. It’s a grimly compelling spectacle to watch: can they keep this up? Will they break the spell with a joke that works by accident? But no. For a bunch of rank amateurs, it would be interesting that they made something quite so poor. From the talent involved, it’s astounding.
So as you either know or have guessed, those two films – despite being completely difference in quality, tone, competence etc, share something – some people, in fact – in common. They are both directed by David Gordon Green, and have Zooey Deschanel** and Danny McBride in the cast. It’s not unusual for a director to make two films that are so apart in feel, but it is uncommon for both of them to be, in some ways, personal projects. In a recent interview with Ryan Gilbey in The Guardian, Green discussed how his art-house and mainstream comedy tastes were nurtured at the same time, and are equally crucial to his approach to the film-making.
3. So the third film is Prince Avalanche, which I saw the Odeon Panton Street, the unlovely cinema just off Leicester Square that serves as that chain’s indie and rep dumping ground. So the idea is that Prince Avalanche is the synthesis to the thesis of Green’s early sensitive movies (All The Real Girls, George Washington) and their antithesis, his hanging-out-with-Judd-Apatow era (Your Highness, Pineapple Express).
Apparently adapted from an Icelandic movie that Green hadn’t even seen when he decided to use it as the basis for his film, Prince Avalanche is set in a burnt-down Texas forest in the late ‘80s. Alvin (Apatow regular Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are painting lines in the middle of the road and banging in posts by the road. Monday to Friday, it’s mostly just the two of them out there. At the weekend, Lance goes into town looking for girls (which we only hear about and never see). Alvin, who is going out with Lance’s sister, doesn’t. I think it is fair to say that Alvin is depressed. Although he hides it a bit better, I think Lance is, too. The pair of them squabble a lot. That’s normal: they are stuck out there, they are sharing a two-man tent, and Alvin feels he is a man of standards and regards Lance as immature. Alvin wants to listen to German lessons on their boombox, Lance wants to play metal. And that’s mostly it.
The setting is beautiful and bleak, and there’s a lot of melancholy to the film. There are a couple of characters who might or might not be ghosts. But there are also comedy riffs that could have come from a much more mainstream film. Hirsch plays Lance a bit like a numbed Jack Black. And there is an extended sequence of substance-addled mayhem, although the drug of availability here is moonshine rather than pot.
The film fits nicely into an enjoyable micro-tradition of two bickering guys out in the wilderness that takes in Gus Van Sant’s Gerry and Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, and which I guess you could call American Godot.
Does Prince Avalanche work? I think so: it’s not great but it is watchable and sometimes funny and definitely sad, uncomfortable sometimes. Rudd is easily capable of embodying Alvin’s mixture of pride and unhappiness while conveying that he’s probably a good guy somewhere in there. There’s not a lot going on with the plot, but the characters make that story enough. And, dear god, it’s almighty step up from Your Highness.
*The first was an Andy Warhol film, I think probably Heat.
**In that Guardian piece, Ryan Gilbey describes All The Real Girls as dating from ‘that bygone age before its star, Zooey Deschanel, was a medically recognised allergen’.