Current Issue #488

Film Review:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell in Downhill
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell in Downhill

This American rethink of 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure isn’t quite as bad as might be expected, but lacks the emotional power or frosty devastation of the original.

Accomplished actors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (best known as the Dean in TV sitcom Community) first switched to directing with the melancholy character comedy The Way Way Back in 2013, and it seems that this one’s co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus was such a fan of Majeure that she pushed for their involvement and sought the blessing of original writer/director Ruben Östlund as well. And, it seems, helped keep everything from becoming a serious snow-job too.

A well-off American family are having a skiing holiday in snowbound Austria (in Majeure it was a Swedish family in the French alps), and Billie (Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Will Ferrell) are introduced as somewhat strained right from the word go. We also learn quickly that Pete’s father died eight months earlier (as if this further excuses him from what comes next), and that their teenage sons Finn (Julian Grey) and Emerson (Ammon Jacob Ford) are a little older than in the original. And surlier.

The family are greeted by horny guest Charlotte (Aussie Miranda Otto sticking out badly with her questionable accent and unfunny sex talk), and Pete is obviously having a quiet crisis as only Ferrell can. Unusually, too, his later-than-mid-life angst is surprisingly restrained for the often embarrassingly uninhibited Ferrell, although it’s nevertheless hard to like or care about him much.

A series of controlled avalanches keep things safe on the mountains around the hotel, but when, over lunch, one of them gets a little too close for comfort, Pete leaps up and runs away, leaving his family to fend for themselves (actually, he grabs his phone and then scarpers, another added touch). When the white-out clears and everyone’s okay, his family’s shock has, at first, struck them all pretty much dumb, which is a good thing because it saves us from too much unnecessary yakking.

While the Dad’s cowardice in Östlund’s film provokes almost existentialist psychodramatic pain, here it leads to grim disappointment, alienation and a particularly American kind of unease, which isn’t really, of course, the same thing. Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell (who had never worked together before) also try hard, but they don’t properly get over the general chill.

If Force Majeure had to be remade at all (and purists – hello out there! – will scream that it should never have been attempted) then Faxon and Rash were probably the best guys for the job, and yet Downhill is still something of an uphill battle.

Reviewer Rating

Downhill (M) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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