Thoughts on life after the PhD
Prince Avalanche is an exercise in patience. It’s rare that I don’t make it through an entire movie, but I was sorely tempted to switch this one off during its last 20 minutes.(My boyfriend was less forgiving and checked out 30 minutes before it ended.)
I’ve seen many films where “not much happens,” and I know they can be wonderful. They can be moving, they can be contemplative, they can be full of tension, they can be hilariously funny. Prince Avalanche is just dull.
The movie follows two men (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) as they paint yellow stripes on a long Texas road in the aftermath of wildfires that burned tens of thousands of acres in 1987. Rudd is in his thirties and uptight. Hirsch is a shiftless twenty-something who only got the job because Rudd is dating his sister. The bulk of the movie concerns the bickering and occasional bonding between the two men.
I wanted to care about these characters, to be drawn into their world, but there was nothing new or surprising in their movie-length conversation and relationship. Early on I found myself irritated by the film’s rhythm–conversation scenes intercut with piano music interludes and silent, slow-motion shots of trees and the men doing their monotonous work. Prince Avalanche is billed as an indie comedy, but it takes itself far too seriously.
Part of the problem is that the movie feels a bit like a series of experiments in narrative and visual style. There was clearly a reason to set the story in the aftermath of wildfires, but that reason is never really clear. There’s an encounter with a woman in her burned-out home that seems taken from another movie. There’s strange and inconsistent use of voiceover, and one moment when the words “I love you” appear over the screen in animated cursive. Why? Who knows?
I like movies that surprise me, even in small ways, and movies that do something that I haven’t seen before, whether it’s in the realm of their stories, visuals, effects, performances, or even music. Sadly, Prince Avalanche did neither of those things. Its questions are far too easy to answer. Will Rudd’s character have trouble with his girlfriend? Will the two men have a blow-up? Will they engage in random destruction of property as a way to blow off steam? Given that this is a movie about painting stripes on a highway, will they at some point get drunk and make little squiggly yellow lines all over the road?
writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)
tales of travel, research, and life
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