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How to Walk Away from the Yellow Brick Road 

Prince Avalanche delivers an artsy comedy

Central Texas has never looked so good, nor has a post-wildfire-ravaged landscape. Filmed over 16 days in freshly burned pine and oak forest, Prince Avalanche is a timely story; if ever there was a visual lesson to the ecological havoc of extreme fires, the backdrop of this movie teaches it with ease.

Although directed by Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and starring Paul Rudd, don't expect slapstick comedy. Instead Prince Avalanche is a pair of visually striking character studies, and an overall situational study on teamwork in a proto-apocalyptic period piece set in 1988—all with a dash of humor.

Two city slickers spend their spring as paint stripers along an eight-mile track of rural Texas road that is undergoing post-fire restoration. In their off hours, they camp in the burnt landscape surrounding the road. Alvin, played by a mustachioed Paul Rudd, is the intensely serious (or maybe just seriously pedantic) boss of a crew of one—his girlfriend's younger brother, Lance, played by a chubby Emile Hirsch. Contrasting with the solitude-loving Alvin, who seems to be constantly licking old wounds, Lance is a young man set on getting his "little guy squeezed" in town on his days off. It is hard not to picture his character as a young Jack Black with many lessons still to be learned. Much of the acting is non-verbal, and only two other characters, one of which may be a ghost, appear in the movie. Even with this locutionary tidiness, the movie comes alive through a combination of a stellar soundtrack (with music by Explosions in the Sky) and the fabulous job that Rudd and Hirsch do in creating palpable vulnerabilities for their characters.

To be with someone you hardy know for 24/7 in a rural, if not wild, setting is an extremely trying existence, especially when work and hierarchy become involved. Respect and trust are hard-earned and heavily tested sentiments. Personalities clash, pride gets in the way, altercations occur, and, in the end, a deeper understanding emerges. It can take months for a working relationship to evolve. Prince Avalanche is not just a simple story of two men learning to bond, but an amazing feat on director Green's part in that he has found a way to capture this rare dynamic in a tangible way in less than two hours.

At times, Prince Avalanche is more aesthetic fable than plot, and in this romanticized form of storytelling there are lessons to be learned. Metaphors, like the journey down a road not chosen, the plunging or falling into a murky creek, and the continual haunting of a ghost, are driving forces as powerful as the characters' more literal interactions. To fully understand the characters—which is the joy of the movie—it is important to continually survey each scene for ulterior motives.

Dir. Gordon Green

Tin Pan Theater


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