As we endure the heat of the summer — and the would-be blockbusters that fill theaters — the Reel Dad checks out the nutritional value of smaller films soon to be available at local cinemas. This week’s pick is Prince Avalanche starring Paul Rudd.
How we accept life’s realities can define how we view its possibilities. If we authentically acknowledge what happens in our lives today, we are more prepared to embrace what may occur in the future. But if we refuse to embrace our truths, we limit what our lives can become.
The two men at the center of Prince Avalanche successfully deny what’s real in their lives. As highway workers trying to repair a fire-damaged countryside in Texas in the late 1980s, they pretend to be in control. But denial can weaken resolve and, no matter how they repair the land, they fail to repair themselves. A barely recognizable Paul Rudd believes, as he heads to work in the charred countryside each week, that his girlfriend in town remains faithful during his absences. But somehow we know, in front of the screen, that someone so sure may cover up his hurt. How can he remain so calm when he knows so little about what goes on in his relationship? And how can he relate to his girlfriend’s brother, played by Emile Hirsch, who hides from his own truths?
With a healthy dose of humor, and respect for its characters’ weaknesses, Prince Avalanche carefully develops its central relationships. As Alvin and Lance, Rudd and Hirsch search for ways to resolve their differences, build on what they have in common, and tolerate the idiosyncrasies they bring to each day. By focusing on their day-to-day routines, writer/director David Gordon Green creates an ironic context to connect their hopes. Because we believe in the value of their work, we want to believe in the sincerity of their aspirations. Just as people who lost their homes in the fire must confront their realities, these well-intentioned helpers must acknowledge their challenges to move forward. Without descending into melodrama, Green makes us believe in the chances these men want to take to progress their lives, if only they could be honest with themselves.
What makes the film work is Green’s authentic approach to his characters. In lesser hands, the dynamics between Alvin and Lance could approach sitcom levels of predictability. But Green reveals how people, no matter how well intentioned, can let their distortions of truth minimize their convictions. The filmmaker reminds us that, no matter what people may face any day, they can always find reason for hope. Anything can grow in the future, from a forest damaged by fire to a man devastated by heartbreak.
Of these special aspects of Prince Avalanche, what’s most redeeming is how Rudd reminds us what a strong actor he can be. In too many of his films, his accessible personality undermines his credibility as a moving actor. This role, more than many others, gives us the chance to see, again, that beneath the appealing persona is an actor who can make us believe in a likable, flawed man who intends to fix the woods.
With so many film choices this summer, small movies like Prince Avalanche are easy to miss. Take the time to discover this work. You’ll appreciate this visit to the Texas countryside, no matter how challenging the work ahead.
Film Nutritional Value
* Content: High. David Gordon Green creates a story that works as an exploration of how people deny their realities as they try to repair their lives.
* Entertainment: High. Even with its meaningful content for adults and older teenagers, Prince Avalanche is filled with meaningful moments that we delight as we wait for its meaningful messages.
* Message: High. No matter our expectations, Prince Avalanche surprises us with characters and situations that are fun, compelling and memorable.
* Relevance: Medium. Even though this is a film adults will most appreciate, and not appropriate for young children, any opportunity to talk with older teenagers about the realities of denial is worthwhile.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You and your older teenagers will have a lot to consider as you absorb what Green delivers in this unusual and satisfying film.
(Prince Avalanche is rated R for content. The film runs 94 minutes.)
4 Popcorn Buckets