Hitting a sweet spot somewhere between the lyrical early David Gordon Green (“All The Real Girls,” “Snow Angels”) and the dorky-comedy Green (“Pineapple Express”), “Prince Avalanche” transforms the bumptiousness of its so-so source material, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson’s simple Icelandic comedy “Either Way,” into something very movie-movie but also very true to imaginative life. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play two doofuses who are repainting traffic lines on a distant rural highway after still-sparking wildfires in the late 1980s. (The opening montage salutes the majesty of destruction.) The yellow paint trickles away, essaying into a rivulet, pollution so pretty, like an Instagram of a Tarkovsky image. Rudd wears too-large glasses and a shoulderful of unexpressed hurt. Hirsch tosses his 1988 haircut above a dimwitted, pretty smile. They joke. There’s room for both Godot and farts. They play pranks. Lie. Brag. “How can you be his age and not know how to gut a fish?” They get their feelings hurt. Do some work. Go to town. Come back. Lie. “A lot of women get their hormones in a tizzy at competitive events,” one says, channeling the younger DGG. They tell some truths. They smoke Parliaments in the wilderness. But the chat and the slapstick slack in the face of nature, transformed. The forest lives. A skunk nibbles after a crushed turtle in its once-gorgeous shell. There is language in this desiccated woods, once you wander in, or when the camera traipses in, loosed from the characters. The movie gets away from them at times, gently experimental without wandering from the ever-so-lightly mystical mood. They come upon a woman wandering a ruin like a dog looking for that place to sit. She says before, “It was just like the house was waiting for my furniture,” but now “It feels like I’m digging in my own ashes.” It feels so true and good, even without knowing it’s a true ruin and she’s the real homeowner. The men-boys’ banter stays on a modest level and their facades begin to crack. As does the armature of the movie’s naturalism, as they meet several elderly characters that could almost be rising from the still-smoking humus of the forest floor. (“I have a lot of prescription medicines, but I try not to use them,” Rudd says. “I get so horny out here in nature, don’t you!” Hirsch exclaims.) The film’s gift is that it is utterly grounded and simultaneously otherworldly. There are one or two scenes not to be described, including the ending, which takes “Prince Avalanche” to another level, something bittersweet, then sweet, then affectionate. And all of a sudden? Pitiable. Painful. Oh, in the best of ways. The setting sun strikes a field a certain way and nothing will be certain ever again. Tim Orr’s cinematography is rustic and dreamy at once: there’s no barrier between the present and the lingering memories of the still-scorched forest. Between here and now and memory and limbo. You never know, when miracles happen. The gentle tug of a score is by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo. 89m. (Ray Pride)
“Prince Avalanche” opens Friday at Landmark Century.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.