Insinuatingly low-key, minimalist Icelandic seriocomedy “Either Way” gets a slightly broader yet perhaps even more satisfying U.S. translation in “Prince Avalanche.” Despite the presence of A-listers Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as ill-matched road workers toiling in a recently burned Central Texas forest area, David Gordon Green’s latest is closer to his poetical indie dramas than to his Hollywood efforts (“Pineapple Express,” let alone “Your Highness”). But both paths actually harmonize in a warmly enjoyable dual-character study whose mix of comedic and serious elements should get the good reviews needed to bolster middling commercial prospects.
Hewing to Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson’s 2011 original in gist, outline and most individual incidents, Green’s pic hits a more emphatically comic tenor at the start in its performances and its adversarial central dynamic. Painting yellow divider lines and installing reflector poles along country roads in the wake of a 1987 fire that destroyed nearly 750,000 woodland acres (and many houses), the two protags are connected socially but not at all temperamentally.
Thirtysomething Alvin (Rudd) is a finicky type who enjoys solitude and nature — he’s been working here since spring. Much younger Lance (Hirsch) is an immature party animal who’s just come on for the summer, hired as a favor because his older sister is Alvin’s girlfriend. While Alvin seems content fishing and reading in their spare time, Lance is already out of his skull with boredom and horniness. (Long miles from the nearest town, they have to share the same tent at night, which inconveniences Lance’s onanistic needs.)
Nary a car seems to pass by, save the truck driven by an old coot (recently deceased Lance LeGault, to whom the pic is dedicated) who stops by to push some homemade hooch and bizarre advice on them. When Lance seeks civilization for the weekend, Alvin stays behind alone, at one point meeting an elderly woman (Joyce Payne) who is mournfully probing the ashes of what was once her home.
Once Lance returns, he’s in a funk for reasons that soon spill out. He has a letter from the sister to give his partner, and when Alvin takes a furtive peek at it, his even grumpier mood is explained: Sis has dumped him in no uncertain terms, tired of his peculiarities and long absences. There follows a huge comic blowout between the two men that turns into drunken mutual bonding. Having learnt one another’s faults all too well, they just might help one another overcome them in the future.
The initially broader tenor (accentuated by Jill Newell’s emasculating costume designs) is due to occasionally more caricatured dialogue than in the original pic, and also to the fact that the stars for a while seem to aping other actors’ familiar personae: Rudd is in Steve Carell’s usual neurotic-fusspot territory, while Hirsch even looks a bit like Jack Black doing his trademark sulky, short-attention-spanned man-boy type. But both thesps soon bring more nuanced shadings, Rudd in particular reminding that his unbeatable comic chops have somewhat overshadowed his admirable dramatic ones in recent years.
A somewhat surprising vehicle for smoothly commingling Green’s own seemingly unreconcilable career sides, “Prince Avalanche” (a title he admits makes no particular sense) has room for both very funny physical comedy and a couple of rapturous, stand-alone, near-experimental montages given superb support by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo’s diverse original rock tracks. Widescreen lensing of the beautiful locations (all Bastrop State Park outside Austin) by the helmer’s usual cinematographer, Tim Orr, is another indispensable element in an unconventional, ultimately rather sweet buddy pic that’s an audiovisual treat.