Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
Starring Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Miranda Otto, Zach Woods, Kristofer Hivju, Julian Grey, Ammon Jacob Ford, Giulio Berruti, and Zoe Chao.
Barely escaping an avalanche during a family ski vacation in the Alps, a married couple is thrown into disarray as they are forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other.
Even without having seen Force Majeure, it’s evident that with Downhill the co-writing and directing duo of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Way Way Back) have gutted and abbreviated Ruben Ostlund’s much-lauded 2014 work, simultaneously altering the tone to one that’s occasionally more quirky and lighthearted choosing to only delve into the heavy material when absolutely necessary.
Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are fine substitutes as the distant parents whose relationship is further fractured by an avalanche scare of certain doom for the entire family, but more specifically divided by Pete’s (Will Ferrell) casualness of ditching his family to save his own skin when he should have been embracing his family preparing to either survive or enter the next life still as a family. It’s also clear from the beginning that this vacation to the Alps (complete with stunning backgrounds, gorgeous vistas, and an oddly epic but welcome beautiful original score) is more of an attempt to salvage what’s left rather than a getaway everyone is invested in. This is hammered home not only by Pete and Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) awkwardly interlocking their hands to keep up a romantic façade (even around strangers in the fancy hotel hallway), but a double-sided mirror in the bathroom obviously meant for more than one person at a time to perform mundane healthcare tasks such as brushing teeth but here filmed from afar to visualize that even in the same room, these two are not really on the same page.
We also aren’t really privy to why these two are so disconnected (although, the avalanche incident nearly shatters the relationship beyond repair) aside from some quick exposition that Pete has recently lost his father. In the wake of that loss has risen the admirable outlook to live every day to the fullest, except he goes about it only thinking about himself (the kids don’t even enjoy skiing), contributing to the vibes the two are going through. This is also why Downhill is barely 80 minutes without credits, but there is also more stripped away from the story giving the impression that all one is really doing is watching a version of this narrative without the meat. It’s the greatest hits of the best scenes in Force Majeure (which runs 40 minutes longer than this remake) with a few pieces moved around and a different ending. Meanwhile, the supporting characters are reduced mostly to jokes (Miranda Otto plays a horny local rambling on about polyamorous perks, but without nuance, so now it just looks like oversexualized European stereotyping rather than a thoughtfully written character).
Similar to Disney’s recent live-action remakes of animated classics (let’s hope the acquisition of Searchlight doesn’t come solely with a game plan to simply redo recently beloved international features), the only thing truly saving Downhill from being a total dud is that the source material appears to be really hard to fumble. Pete deals with insecurity and shame from his own selfish actions, demanding that it’s all a matter of perspective and that he was not running away to potentially let his family die, all with one of the more intriguing twists on the original film being that there is no recorded footage of the incident (if you weren’t paying attention closely or are not familiar with Force Majeure, it’s possible to let the impressive dramatic turn from Will Ferrell convince you that maybe he was up to something else and not abandoning anyone).
On that note, the acting here is solid all around. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is especially fantastic, not afraid to speak her mind and seize (or choose not to seize) whatever she chooses, which is a stark juxtaposition compared to a Will Ferrell that has never been more downbeat and silent. Billie rightfully stands her ground and pushes Pete to admit his fault, although he is mostly concerned with pulling the matter of perspective excuse and locking himself in the bathroom to sulk on his phone living vicariously through a friend’s relationship that is going swell on vacation. They also play a physical presence in the film, but once again, at 86 minutes there’s nothing really to latch onto for any of the supporting characters.
Actually, the more I write about Downhill the more I’m actually convincing myself that there’s really not much reason to check it out, and that’s without yet mentioning that this reimagining sometimes goes for ill-advised slapstick humor that just doesn’t work. Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are fine; there are layers to their characters and motives, but there are more perspectives that matter (and I’m not talking about the avalanche debate springing the story forward). The children feel like an afterthought aside from one uncomfortable scene that brings them into the domestic squabbling. To be honest, everything feels like an afterthought aside from the central couple, which is a good foundation to build upon but doesn’t work when every other element is either tonally distracting, played for cheap laughs, or frustratingly overlooked.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com