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'Prince Avalanche' review: Welcome back, David Gordon Green

*** (out of four)

Repairing roads with little to generate excitement, Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) bicker about the use of their boombox. Lance wants energizing music; Alvin wants his instructional German tapes, in preparation for an upcoming trip with his girlfriend, Lance’s sister Madison.

“The equal time boombox agreement doesn’t apply in this case,” Alvin says. In a world of compromise, there’s always an exception.

That truth also applies to “Prince Avalanche,” the first time in years that writer-director David Gordon Green (“George Washington,” “Your Highness,” “The Sitter”) has delivered a movie with passion, not just a weak Hollywood cash-in. Not much happens in “Avalanche,” with a minimalism somewhat similar to (and better utilized in) the work of Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff”). The film takes place in 1988, a year after 43,000 acres and 1,600 homes mysteriously burned. Alvin enjoys the quiet of abandoned streets and woods. Lance whines about loneliness and doesn’t hesitate to pleasure himself with his sole colleague/boss sleeping a few inches away. You gotta do what you gotta do, I guess.

Requiring patience and withholding payoff as long as possible, “Avalanche” is about how people need companionship but often push others away when they get it. Adapting the Icelandic film “Either Way,” Green depicts feelings as dangerous but inevitable—Lance’s efforts toward sexual satisfaction can’t help but run across a girl, and an old friend, who generate far more complication than a standard one-night stand.

All the while, the guys figure out how to pass the time, separately or together, in the ashen territory. Hirsch and Rudd are both very good and very funny without ever pushing the comedy too hard. Death is so sad, so final, and life is so absurd, the movie seems to say. The film’s full weight ultimately feels just out of reach, but for a small story about isolation, that mood is fitting. 

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