Friday, February 14

Downhill Review

Dir: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Zach Woods, Zoë Chao, and Miranda Otto

Take a moment the next time you are on vacation, at the amusement park, the beach, or any place where families gather to relax and partake in fun, and look through the crowds of smiling faces for that one family that is in the midst of a bad day. Where the kids are having complete meltdowns, and mom and dad are barely holding it together as years of unresolved past arguments and quarrels rise slowly to the surface. If it’s not happening to you, it’s a fascinating sight to see.

“Downhill”, a remake of the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure” from director Ruben Ostlund, takes a look at a vacation-from-hell scenario for a family on a skiing trip in a foreign country. Directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who last helmed the 2013 film “The Way Way Back”, compose this version of the film with a lesser emphasis on mechanisms like masculinity, the line that divides fear and cowardice, and relationship inadequacies. Instead, the writing and directing team focus on the surface situation of ‘flight versus fight’ and allow the strengths of their actors, Will Ferrell playing more reserved than normal and Julia Louis-Dreyfus controlling the tone with her anxious and irritated demeanor, opportunity to control the blending serious dramatic themes with awkward comedy moments.

Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Will Ferrell) are taking their two young kids on a skiing trip in Austria, they are staying at a luxury resort tailored for adults. Pete, from the moment they arrive, seems distracted by his phone while Billie is doing her best to make the vacation fun for everyone. While eating lunch at an outdoor restaurant, a controlled avalanche is initiated by the resort; as snow rolls down the mountain it begins to look more and more threatening to Billie and Pete, just as the snow crashes into the restaurant, Pete grabs his phone and runs away from Billie and the children. Once the white dust settles, Pete returns as if nothing happened while Billie is holding her children and trembling with fear.

Faxon and Rash pace their film with a swiftness, moving into the primary conflict of the movie with ease and then focusing on the ramifications of the event between Pete and Billie with a string of interesting and amusing scenarios. While this helps keep the narrative moving it also stifles some of the thought-provoking interactions and internal conflict that Billie and Pete are experiencing about themselves individually and one another collectively. “Downhill” doesn’t pursue the depth that “Force Majeure” explored, instead it examines the superficial emotions, the surface anger and frustration that Billie feels and the outward denial and selfishness that Pete exhibits. While it doesn’t ruin the experience of “Downhill”, it does display a lack of emotional connection between the married couple. 

Julie Louis-Dreyfus is very good throughout the film, her comedic timing works well when her character is annoyed but also adds a nice bit of charm as things begin to progress more complicated. Will Ferrell pleasantly provides some restraint in his needy and selfish portrayal of Pete. While Ferrell is good, though there are few moments that don’t work for the character, such as a long scene involving Pete recalling his time as a single man after being offered a drink from an attractive onlooker. 

“Downhill” isn’t interested in finding pathways to deeper intellectual topics, however, that doesn’t mean it isn’t any less interesting watching two people struggle to patch the worn pieces of married life amidst awkward encounters and cringe-worthy scenarios.  

Monte’s Rating
3.00 out of 5.00

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