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David Gordon Green's growing pain in Prince Avalanche

Prince Avalanche kicked off the IFC Center's ongoing regionally-focused film series, "Lone Star Cinema: Texas on Screen," and almost kicks the bucket. Although based on the 2011 Swedish movie Either Way, Prince Avalanche is director David Gordon Green's first feature set in his native state. It returns Green to his art-film affectations, using the story of two highway road workers, Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch), encountering survivors of a wildfire. He reconstructs Texas as a place of magical renewal.

Green takes home-state parochialism and makes it whimsical, trying out stylistic decorations like Alvin's letter to his girlfriend appearing on screen as blue script or a interior dialogue effect where voices in conversation overlap without matching mouth movement. It's terribly arch for the story's working-class Joes: fastidious Alvin and slacker Lance (the title conflates their names and crowns them). They get on each other's nerves despite their common perplexity about work and women. Though never enigmatic like Gus Van Sant's excruciating desert buddy film Gerry, neither is this the dirtbag comedy expected from Green's recent Danny McBride phase. Rudd and Hirsch play the middle-ground; their clashes are both weary and juvenile. Rudd acts a frustrated urbanite know-it-all and Hirsch acts a Jack Black jerk--a modern Texas Odd Couple.

They're surrounded by Green's attempts at nature poetry (the woods, caterpillars, birds, a turtle, mangy donkey, turnips, a rabbit, country kids playing among burnt trees). These Malicky etudes don't feel like instances of local color any more than another current film set in the Lone Star state, the fatuous Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Stuck between his early artsiness and his recent larky impudence, Green's landscape poetry doesn't quite "get" Texas as a place or an idea.

Consider the IFC series' upcoming Oct. 18th offering, Robert Mulligan's Baby the Rain Must Fall--the best, unheralded American film of the 60s. Its study of place and experience sensitized the nation's hidden frustrations and longings--embodied in Lee Remick and Steve McQueen's luminous, yearning performances and conveyed by Mulligan's delicate, artful use of land, light and air in Ernest Laszlo's vivid cinematography. Mulligan's sense that his young couple's lives were affected by some cultural error (misunderstandings linked to social traditions and private disciplines) makes the film unique, a sociological romance as well as a sociological tragedy. It predates Easy Rider's wake-up call, only in Baby: "They went looking for America and?found it in themselves."

A similar interior/exterior ambivalence distinguished Green's George Washington and Prince Avalanche also has it for a brief moment when Alvin falls off an unseen cliff and grumbles "My hip is bruised and beat up and stupid and old like me." It's a direct response to his interplay with Lance, an expression of modern frustration that comes out of the land, the circumstances and Green's own aging (his identification with both smart-ass Alvin and ass-hat Lance). It's a focused moment for this two-character homecoming movie, yet too much of Prince Avalanche is diffuse.

Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xchair

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