Film review: ‘DOWNHILL’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

With leads like will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, two of the biggest comedy stars of the last 30 years, it would be reasonable at first glance to expect Downhill to be a laugh fest. This is, however, a Hollywood remake of the lauded Swedish drama Force Majeure, a film that had it quirks but wasn’t exactly a riotous romp.

Here, Ferrell and Dreyfus play middle-aged married couple Pete and Billie who are on a skiing holiday in Switzerland with their two sons (Julian Grey and Ammon Jacob Ford). Already concerned they’re in a mid-life rut, their marriage is nearly split asunder when Pete, much like George Constanza, flees the table at an outdoor restaurant during a minor avalanche leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves.  While the couple initially attempt to overlook the incident, the angst it creates begins to infect their relationship. Soon, Billie begins to question Pete’s commitment to his family and the foundations of their marriage. It also compels Pete to examine what it means to be a man.

Despite using largely the same plot template and bright, sunlit aesthetic as Force Majeure, Downhill lacks that film’s impact. It replicates neither its acerbic wit nor its dramatic intensity. While there are some confronting scenes of Billie unleashing her anger and disillusionment at Pete, the film mostly wavers between tepid drama and quirky comedy, at times seeming to transform into a kind of National Lampoon’s Skiing Vacation.

Force Majeure cleverly dissected the concept of marriage, suggesting it was a like legal arrangement in which the parties were meant to fulfil certain roles. When Pete’s equivalent in that film, Tomas (Johnannes Bah Kuhnke) failed in his role as the strong and protective male, the agreement started to break down. While Downhill at times has characters testing the bounds of civilised behaviour – particularly the sexually voracious concierge Charlotte (Miranda Otto) – it’s not as successful in capturing that sense of social rules crumbling.

With such likeable and accomplished leads as Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus, though, the film could never be a complete loss. While they’re by no means allowed the latitude to unleash their full comic talents, they have some amusing moments. There’s also a welcome cameo from Zach Woods aka Gabe from the American version of The Office as Pete’s freewheeling younger buddy also named Zach.

By itself, Downhill is watchable but it pales in the shadow of the superior Swedish original.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Comedy/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Nat Faxon, Jim Rash.

Release date: 5th Mar 2020.

Running time: 86 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show

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