The David Gordon Green of acclaimed indies George Washington and All The Real Girls and the David Gordon Green of Pineapple Express and Your Highness are not warring factions. They're complementary components of a sometimes maddening filmmaker, a guy who can cast pal Danny McBride in Real Girls as a character named "Bust-Ass," get compared to Terence Malick thanks to his more poetic stylistic detours and then perform a painful belly flop with The Sitter. If you tried to separate these weirdly interlocking pieces you'd be left without Pineapple's stoners and their somewhat unrequited longing for intimacy (go watch it again un-high, it's in there). Strip the unexpected comic strangeness from Green's earlier arthouse work and they lose their left-field charm. That makes Prince Avalanche a move toward a more perfect union.
Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are road workers in rural Texas. Their job is painting the dividing line on rebuilt road following a devastating wildfire. Alone in the middle of nowhere for a summer in the pre-internet late 80s, they're stuck with each other. Alvin is a bossy, goal-oriented perfectionist, while Lance is Alvin's girlfriend's younger brother with all the laziness that arrangement implies. He's significantly more focused on "getting the little man squeezed" than taking manual labor seriously as an exercise in building character, so these two experience movie-necessary friction. They paint the road and bicker. They meet an old truck driver who gives them homemade booze. They get drunk. They swim. They meet a lady rummaging through the debris of her destroyed home. They navigate long-distance romances. Things go wrong. They sit in silence.
And that's kind of it. Plot points take a backseat to human interaction that, every once in a while, especially as it meanders toward its conclusion, threatens to topple over into a too-adorable mess of sudden brotherly affinity and affection. But Green still knows where he wants to go even if the characters sometimes don't. They wander through a scorched world where almost everything's been ruined and the director quietly allows them enough hope to right themselves and face a forward direction. He hasn't gone so far afield of weed-fueled goofiness that he can resist a certain amount of manchild idiocy, pointless fighting, impotent rage or, best of all, allowing Hirsch to shout out, David Seville-style, "ALVIN!" But it's a balancing act Green gets mostly right most of the time. He risks stripping away action and easy laughs to take the longer, less clearly marked way home. And in the middle of a workplace comedy about loss and the battle against loneliness -- seriously, when was the last time you saw one of those? -- somebody has to be the guide.