We know Paul Rudd as the bro's bro
, the boyishly handsome, witty, calm-y cool guy, age 35 going on 23.
Think of David, one of the wisecracking, sexually obsessed electronics store employees trying to help Steve Carell lose his V-card in
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
, or of Peter Klaven, who develops a bromance crush while palling around with Jason Segel's towering man-child, Sydney, in
I Love You, Man
In David Gordon Green's quirky buddy-flick dramedy
, we see Rudd drop the knowing grin and sophomoric humor in his portrayal of Alvin, an uptight highway worker who fancies himself a self-sufficient man, capable of using his knowledge and his hands to survive while embracing the silence and solitude of his desolate surroundings. He dutifully sends money to his girlfriend, Madison, and spends time studying German for their eventual trip overseas.
His only co-worker is Lance (Emile Hirsch), Madison's dim-witted, horny younger brother. In the summer-long job of laying down new yellow lines, caulking reflectors, and hammering in roadside posts, Alvin sees an opportunity to provide direction for Lance and foster in him a sense of responsibility. Doubling as a father, he chides Lance for little things like not eating the skin of his fish, "the healthiest part," and wonders how he managed to get this far in life without knowing how to "gut a fish or build a tent or tie a knot."
For the most part, Alvin and Lance are alone, plodding along the newly paved road that cuts through a swath of Texas forest ravaged by wildfires the previous year, 1987. The only other people the pair encounters are a shamanistic old man who drops in several times to dispense booze and cryptic country wisdom, and a sullen older woman sifting through the ashes of her house. Director Gordon Green shows both the majesty and monotony of the scorched-earth landscape: Long pans offer up beautiful trees and returning animals, then the camera pulls back to show just how deep and isolating the woods are.
After Lance leaves for the weekend to hunt for sexual conquests in the city, Alvin reveals his hardened shell is a front. Sure, he's able to cook a squirrel for dinner and sustain himself in nature-a modern Thoreau-but in a scene that veers perilously close to cheesy, he stumbles upon a charred frame of a building and starts playing house, pretending to fix a meal and speaking to a girlfriend who isn't there.
In effect, this is your typical Paul Rudd comedy in reverse. Instead of the middle-aged white guy with Peter Pan syndrome who pieces together a semblance of adulthood by the film's end, we see a man dropping his facade of masculinity and maturity to reveal a lost boy-scared, unsure of himself, prone to tantrums, and utterly unaware of how to deal with the fairer sex.
After Madison breaks up with Alvin and Lance learns he's impregnated a woman nearly twice his age, the two find themselves heading in opposite directions, one facing the possibility of being thrust into a familial setting after the other tumbles out of his.
At first, perhaps out of fear, they butt heads, with Lance labeling Alvin's love of seclusion a boring personality. But they suddenly begin to empathize with each other's plight and form an understanding, even caring relationship. Lance changes his tune and says Alvin is superior to the guy his sister dumped him for. Alvin advises Lance to let the older woman go through with the pregnancy and to become a dad, though it is perfectly clear to the viewer that Lance is woefully unprepared for such a role.
Even during the bonding, they devolve into bro-tastic children. Clad in overalls, looking every bit the parts of physically mature Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, they go on a drunken bender, painting curvy lines and yellow body outlines over the road, dumping their supplies into a stream, belligerently belting out songs, and playing soccer, eventually deciding to head out on an adventure.
We're supposed to feel like this has been underneath the surface all along, but Hirsch's sometimes hammy portrayal of Lance's naive wonderment (even if said in a drunken haze, the line "And maybe they'll even make a comic book about us someday, 'The Adventures of Alvin and Lance'" is particularly cringe-worthy) makes the newly developed bond feel contrived. In other places, Lance's simplemindedness-which, in another nod to literature, can sometimes come off like a younger Lennie from
Of Mice and Men
-feels a bit forced.
For his part, Rudd shows versatility and true dramatic chops, demonstrating an underutilized range (at least as far as his mainstream releases go, save for his small part in
Cider House Rules
) in scenes that veer from presenting rigid stoicism to heartbroken despair.
Still, it's not entirely convincing that Alvin can become the George to Lance's Lennie. The change in dynamic between the two protagonists feels so sudden in comparison to the careful pacing of their earlier conflicting outlooks that the new bond doesn't feel completely earned. And some of the lighthearted moments, particularly those in their booze-driven bacchanalia, don't land with the feeling they should.
wants to be the movie that casts Rudd's bro character in a more serious light, but despite his admirable performance, the film doesn't quite resonate in the way it was intended to.