This is a film that nobody saw coming, and erm… nobody saw. Which is a travesty considering how complete it is as a film. Perhaps the notion of spending ninety minutes with two characters who paint the lines on roads for a living didn’t excite too many. Not to worry though, as this movie is so much more than that. As mentioned Paul Rudd’s Alvin and Emile Hirsch’s Lance are two men who spend their summer painting the road, not just anywhere, but in a forested area which has been devastated by a fire. Alvin is a true outdoors-man who thoroughly enjoys the solitude that accompanies the job at hand. He dates Lance’s sister, and seems to genuinely love her. However, maybe at times he is too wrapped up in himself and his peace and quiet away from the world that he loses track of the important and real things in his life. Lance is not quite as sweet, is much younger than Alvin, in fact barely an adult, and yearns for the weekends when he gets to return to the town. Lance may be doing all the wrong things, seemingly having little respect for girls, and hooking up with his friend Kip’s girlfriend, but Hirsch brings a warmth to the character. He’s not an out and out bad guy, merely a young man lost in the world, and as a viewer, you cannot help but sympathise with his struggle to find his way.
These two very opposite characters, both flawed in their own ways, could have made for an extremely cliched film. However, the stellar performances from both leads means it never strays into such territory. There is a genuine warmth and a true emotional heart to the film, with the events unfolding in a seemingly natural way. Nothing is forced.
Tragedy looms large over the whole film, always there in the background, both metaphorically and literally. It shapes the film and thus the characters. One stand out scene is when the pair meet an elderly woman in a red sunhat who is searching through the ash of what used to be her home looking for her pilot’s log book. It’s heartbreaking, and what makes it even more fascinating is that the story was real. The crew stumbled upon her searching her now destroyed home for her log book, and asked her to be in the film. A wonderful moment that rips at the heart strings.
Perhaps the best scene in the whole film is when Rudd’s Alvin spends a few moments acting out a scene in the burnt remains of a house. He’s trying to recreate life in a now lifeless place. He’s entertaining himself, perhaps distracting himself from the loneliness of the life he currently leads. It’s magical. It’s haunting. It’s astounding. For the rest of the film it stays with you, much like the poor woman in the red sunhat, and it looms over the audience the same way it looms over the characters. David Gordon Green must be given credit for much of this. As director and screenwriter, he blends tragedy and comedy, splatters of romance and drama, into a unique mix that very few films manage to achieve. It’s consistent, the characters are real, and a film you can’t look away from. For such a low budget movie, there’s no real higher praise. You simply have to sit back and let the beauty of the film flow over you, taking every joyous moment with every crushing defeat.
It’s only been a few years since this film was released, but there is reward in re-watching it, unlike many recent movies. In another ten years there’s no doubt it’ll be looked back on may be not as a classic, but as a very solid, under-appreciated gem.