View Blue Jasmine and Prince Avalanche in close succession, as I did, and it is hard not to see them as yin and yang -- as two very good films that, had they incorporated elements of the other, might have been truly great.
Where Blue Jasmine is a drama with strong hints of comedy in which its main character never really grows or change, Prince Avalanche is a comedy with strong hints of drama in which its main characters develop rapidly. Where Blue Jasmine feels more complete but also more distant from its principal subjects, Prince Avalanche is less skillfully made but possesses quite a bit more heart.
Director David Gordon Green, best known for a recent string of big-budget comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter), is behind this tale, which focuses almost exclusively on the relationship between Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. The pair are spending the summer of 1988 repainting the lines on a road through country in Texas that was ravaged by a devastating wildfire.
They are an odd couple to be sure. Rudd's Alvin, sporting a thick mustache, looks like a long-lost Mario Brother, but despite his blue-collar appearance, he is more of a pseudo-intellectual poseur who writes letters and reads books when he isn't striping a stretch of road. He seems to enjoy the solitude and the tedium of his work, which is in stark contrast to Hirsch's Lance, a half-witted goober who is only working this job because his sister also happens to be Alvin's girlfriend and he doesn't have much else going for himself.
Alvin and Lance have almost nothing in common other than a shared immaturity that manifests itself to great comedic effect; Lance is brought to tears because he can't "score" with women during a weekend off while the best Alvin can muster as a "suicide attempt" when he finds out his girlfriend is leaving him is to feebly leap off a 12-foot cliff.
Much to my surprise, the lion's share of laughs belong to the severely underrated Hirsch, who has the necessary comedic timing to pull off dopey in expert fashion. Also to my surprise: Green's eye for pleasing cinematic shots that high-art directors would be proud of in a film that's ostensibly a quirky comedy. Filming in Bastrop, Texas after the most destructive wildfire in the history of the state -- interspersing tight shots of yellow paint spurting evenly onto pavement -- gives Prince Avalanche a haunting quality and an unexpectedly pleasing extra dimension.
That said, the heart of the film is, predictably, the relationship between Rudd and Hirsch's characters. Wildly different though they may be, they manage to form an odd bond. It's not as if you can't see this development coming from a mile away, but that doesn't make its inevitable arrival less satisfying. Like its characters, this film is rough around the edges, but has a sizable soft, lovable center.