Going into Downhill blind, knowing only that it was based on Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure, I expected comedy, maybe a bit of awkwardness, and ultimately a story about a family that goes skiing. I had low expectations, and while the awkwardness stuck and it was indeed a movie about a family that skis, the humor seemed to be left out.
With Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Downhill felt like it had all the momentum behind it to be a strong remake. Set in the Austrian Alps, a quintessentially American family is on vacation skiing and enjoying the fresh powder. Caught in an avalanche and expecting to be killed, the mother, Billie, is shocked to find that her husband Pete has run to save himself instead of staying with his wife and two children. This throws the whole family off-kilter as they must suffer through the vacation and reevaluate the meaning of Pete’s actions.
Cast alongside Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus are Miranda Otto and Kristofer Hivju, who are both funnier than the former. The directing duo of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash also penned the script alongside Jesse Armstrong (Succession). So, basically, I expected a lot from this movie.
But after 86 minutes, I left the theater confused, annoyed, and a bit bored. It’s hard to say what I didn’t care about more, the woes of an insecure and selfish white man or his interactions with his upper middle-class family. It’s not really the fault of Ferrell in this, who gives a surprisingly subdued performance compared to his more infamous roles. But I just can’t bring myself to really care or want to mock these people.
There are some moments when the family is together that you can truly revel in the schadenfreude of tension. Louis-Dreyfus does manage to break through my annoyance at the family by finally putting a voice to her fears and the trauma that her children faced in a moment when it felt like everything was going to end. But, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to make me leave the film feeling whatever the directors wanted me to feel.
There’s hardly anything redemptive of Downhill and none of it is enough for me to claim any love for the film. I think I’m done with the nice-white-upper-middle-class-family-that-goes-through-mild-emotional-trauma narrative for now. We can make room for other stories.
Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Company: Fox Searchlight