Directed by: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Written by: Jesse Armstrong, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Zoë Chao, Zach Woods
Potential life-ending events reveal plenty when accounting for how people act when they think they’re going to die. It only makes it awkward when everyone survives and some of the reactions may be viewed as unsavory as compared to others. Downhill takes a look at this idea, what it reveals about relationships, and the impact it can have. If only the film actually did something interesting with it.
On a family ski vacation, Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Will Ferrell) try to have fun with their kids. One day when they have lunch on an outdoor patio, a controlled avalanche they were unaware of goes off, which makes them believe they’re going to die. When the snow settles and they all survive, it appears Billie stayed and protected the kids while Pete grabbed his phone and ran away.
I understand the concept and premise of this story and what it attempts to achieve but in the manner of execution, Downhill massively fails because it refuses to spend time with these characters. Now, it’s not often you will catch me complaining about a film being only 86 minutes but it feels as if this feature needed more time to tell its story. These characters can be pieced together, but ultimately their decision-making and purpose remain shallow because we can barely comprehend what drives them. It then makes these supposed gargantuan moments feel hollow.
Pete is obviously going through some mid-life crisis as the film reveals he booked for his family to stay at a resort well-known for catering to adults rather than family. While promising to stay engaged with his family, Pete reaches out to a younger colleague, who happens to be in the area to hang out. He truly has a selfish point of view, which gets pointed out on several occasions. One scene, in particular, shows him receiving the ultimate embarrassing moment, which demonstrates his selfishness and how it backfires on him massively. This behavior and strange journey he has chosen to take on stems from losing his father, but it leaves the character of Billie with not much to do as a character other than maybe exploring other avenues in life. We don’t get much from Billie other than her being an attorney and her realizing her husband does not seem to care for his family. Even in moments where she has her own screen time, we don’t get much from this character and with a story this short, every minute had to count.
It’s unfortunate because the film carries two incredible talents in Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell. They had much of nothing to do because for a feature priding itself to be a black comedy-drama. Its moments feel unearned and the comedy does not land, except for the eccentric performance by Miranda Otto as the character of Charlotte. I would prefer to follow a story about her rather than these two insufferable characters we’re stuck with in this luxurious ski resort.
When the credits rolled, I sat back and thought there must have been a mistake because there’s no way it could have ended with no real point, but then the reality hit. The reality being that this film is simply terrible no matter how much I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt. It simply does not fully explore any of its ideas, and only shows two insufferable people going about their vacation. I felt more connected to the two sons, who just wanted to stay in the room and watch movies rather than spending time with Billie and Pete.
While being a remake of Force Majeure, which I have not seen as of the writing of this review, I was incredibly disappointed with how this film turned out. I can only assume the Swedish film Downhill remade carried out its story ideas in a more poignant and effective manner. Unfortunately, as is the case with many of these American remakes, they miss the mark and make the original look unappealing as a result. I surely hope it’s not the case, but what we received in Downhill shows a useless film only redeemed by a great quirky side character and a mercilessly short runtime. Overall, it’s truly a dreadful and uneventful experience not worth thinking of after the final sentence of this review.