If Laurel and Hardy, wearing matching baggy overalls and similarly dumbstruck expressions, had starred in a screen version of Waiting for Godot, the results wouldn't be far afield from Prince Avalanche. David Gordon Green's cheerfully goofy adaptation of a 2011 Icelandic movie called Either Way finds a couple of stumblebums - Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) - in the middle of the Texas woods, painting median strips along miles of empty road.
They work, they bicker, they camp. They talk about women - Alvin is in love with Lance's sister, writing long mash notes in his tent, while Lance thinks himself a lady's man, taking weekends off to hit the bars in town.
Now and then, an old coot in a truck rolls up, offering the boys liquor and pearls of wisdom.
Green, who has made films both nuanced (George Washington, All the Real Girls, Snow Angels) and THC-soaked and absurd (Pineapple Express, Your Highness), finds a balance somewhere in between with Prince Avalanche. Although the title is never explained, stuff tumbles down on its doofus duo. They feel like their youth, and their physiques, are getting away from them.
"Old fatties like us," Lance says to Alvin in a moment of brotherly self-appraisal, before their relationship goes south.
Wistful and strange, Prince Avalanche is set in 1988, which explains both the haircuts and fashion choices (including those overalls), and the fact that much of the landscape is barren ash, from the wildfires that burned across central Texas the previous year.
The devastation wrought by the fire surely serves as a metaphor. And Alvin and Lance surely wouldn't know what to make of it.
Prince Avalanche *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by David Gordon Green. With Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Bourse