I don’t like reviewing movies like Downhill. They’re not great; they’re not terrible. They’re just resoundingly mediocre and struggle to make the case for their own existence. The adaptation from directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon is based on the acclaimed Swedish movie Force Majeure, and while it works from the same premise, it discards most of the ambiguity that made the original such a fascinating and uncomfortable experience. Instead, Downhill feels dumbed down for American audiences. You’ve got the benefit of famous comic actors, the movie is in English, and the themes have been ironed out to simply the conflict. It’s not the worst film you’ll see this year, but it’s not particularly worthwhile either.
Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her husband Pete (Will Ferrell) are vacationing with their two young sons in Austria on a ski trip. The trip is already off the a rocky start when Pete books the family at a fancy hotel instead of a more family-friendly location close by and then won’t stop texting with a friend of his. Billie reluctantly lets those slights go since Pete is still grieving over the recent death of his father. However, the trip takes a dark turn when an avalanche threatens to engulf the family. As the snow bears down on them, Billie tries to protect their two children but Pete grabs his phone and runs. The avalanche turns out to be a false alarm, but both Billie and Pete have to deal with the fallout.
To Rash and Faxon’s credit, they haven’t tried to make a carbon copy of Force Majeure. The films deal with the same inciting event and overarching conflict, but plenty of the scenes are different with a move towards clarity that works to align your allegiances with Billie. And yet despite removing the ambiguity, Downhill still seems oddly muddled in its tone. You have Miranda Otto showing up as an aggressively sexual employee working at the hotel where Billie and Pete are staying. Otto is a lot of fun, but she also feels like she strolled in from a broad comedy rather than the comically tense affair created by Downhill‘s central conflict.
The movie is at its best when it’s focused on Billie. Ferrell is kind of out here doing his Ferrell thing and it’s the kind of performance we’ve seen from him before as the good-natured goober. But Louis-Dreyfus feels like she’s giving a fully formed and complex performance where she gets to show off her dramatic range. She’s still funny (Louis-Dreyfus is obviously a comic legend), but Downhill shines when you’re watching Billie wrestle with the pain of not just Pete’s actions but also his insistence on ignoring her concerns and showing how he cares more about himself than his family.
Despite Louis-Dreyfus’ strong performance, it’s not enough to make Downhill feel like a worthy adaptation of Force Majeure. Rash and Faxon’s remake simplifies the conflict and dulls down the sharper edges. That doesn’t make Downhill unwatchable and perhaps if you have no interest in Force Majeure, you might give the remake a shot. But it’s a film I’m already struggling to remember less than 12 hours after having seen it, and I wish it had left more of an impact.
Downhill opens February 14th.
For more of our Sundance 2020 reviews, click the links below:
- The Assistant
- Bad Hair
- Boys State
- Crip Camp
- Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story
- Miss Americana
- Never Rarely Sometimes Always
- Promising Young Woman