“Downhill is highly enjoyable.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell head to the mountains in Austria for a fun ski-vacation with their two kids in Downhill, which is an American remake from the 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure. While being skeptical about this American version is rational and justified, Downhill is different and original enough to stand completely on its own and acts more like a sibling film to the original. Thanks to the writing/directing team of Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (The Way Way Back), Downhill is highly enjoyable and tackles a few family issues in its short-run time of 80 minutes with a brilliant performance from Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Like Force Majeure, this new film Downhill centers on Pete and Billie Stanton (Ferrell, Louis-Dreyfus) who are in Austria with their young kids for a solid vacation and family bonding, while hitting the snow-filled slopes all day. While at lunch on a gorgeous balcony view of the mountains, a mini-avalanche occurs in the distance and heads for the lunch crowd. In a moment of panic and self-defense, Pete grabs his phone and runs for cover, leaving his wife and two kids at the table, front and center for the avalanche impact.
Turns out, all is well and it was just a light dusting of snow where everyone is safe and okay, but the serious impending doom that proceeded this changes Billie’s feelings toward her husband. From here, it’s a series of awkward situations where the couple doesn’t really acknowledge the big elephant in the room until they have a couple of friends over and Billie airs out all of her grievances about the episode that occurred. The relationship is in severe turmoil where both partners try and figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
In Force Majeure, the tone is much more gloomy and comedy is darker. But with Downhill, Rash and Faxon showed a bit of a lighter side to this while sticking to the earnestness of honesty of the situation. Instead of a dark comedy, Downhill jumps head-first into its own awkwardness from scene to scene as Pete and Billie try and fix or un-fix their own battles, including some mid-life crises sequences that include an impromptu meeting with a muscular ski-instructor and a night out at the club that leads to heavy drinking.
Julie Louis-Dreyfus showed that her perfected and nuanced humor and delivery can be brought to the dramatic scene in Enough Said, and it translates to Downhill once again impeccably with her expert delivery in a range of emotions down to her facial expressions of sadness and anger. It’s simply wonderful to watch her work on-screen each time she’s pictured there. As for Will Ferrell, he turns in a sturdy performance, and luckily, they didn’t go over-the-top silly with him here. Still, with that aspect, he feels hugely miscast and is ultimately forgettable by the end as in no way do you believe his dull character can ever be married to someone as great as Billie. It’s a minor oversight and doesn’t necessarily take anything else away from the film, including its gorgeous snowy landscapes of Austria.
While Force Majeure added a ton of symbolism and visual metaphors with the ski slopes and the seemingly doomed marriage of the couple, Downhill forgoes all of that and focuses on the witty script and redeeming this family dynamic by the end, something that Force Majeure doesn’t do. Even the ending is completely different here, which makes this film genuine and legitimate to something of its own will, but still connected to its predecessor.