Film Review: Downhill
Directors: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
In Theaters: 02.14
It’s pretty easy to tell if you’re a part of the target audience for a movie like Sonic The Hedgehog. But if you aren’t, you might be wondering if Downhill is for you. That’s a question that the film seems to be trying to figure out as well. It all plays a bit like an improv game called “genres,” wherein the actors are performing a scene and the emcee periodically yells out “drama” or “comedy” and the cast has to abruptly switch gears.
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Will Ferrell star as Billie and Pete, a married couple on vacation in the Austrian Alps with their two children. After spending the morning skiing, the family settles in for lunch on a restaurant patio, looking out onto a breathtaking mountainscape. When controlled explosions set off an avalanche, a veritable tidal wave of snow seems to be heading directly towards them. Billie throws her arms around her two sons, while Pete grabs his cell phone and runs, only to return like nothing happened once the snow dissipates and it’s clear that everyone is safe. No one wants to be the first to talk about what happened, and for the rest of the day, the tension is building into an explosion that is anything but controlled. What was once a vacation becomes a moment of truth for the couple.
Louis-Dreyfuss does a great job of carrying the film, creating a three-dimensional character and commanding the screen with her presence. As her counter, Ferrell gives one of the most restrained performances of his career. But this remake of the 2014 Swedish film Force Majure is strangely tentative, unsure whether it wants to be a dark comedy or a light drama. It never quite smooths out into the dramedy it wants to be, and it’s a bumpy ride down a winding slope. It’s an involved story with a lot of moments that feel very genuine. However, just as Downhill starts to feel as if it’s working, it takes a wrong turn—a lengthy sequence involving Billie’s attraction to a hot ski instructor seems out of place and simply doesn’t work. In the screening I attended, sections of the audience were laughing awkwardly at moments that much of the rest of the audience didn’t seem to feel were meant to be funny at all. Pretty soon, another level of unintended tension got thrown into the mix.
The story of Downhill is provocative and could have made for a a genuinely challenging film, but it strangely captures its own theme in that the more directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash try to play things safely, the more they leave their audience out in the cold. It’s a mixed bag that is likely to leave most moviegoers feeling more confused than entertained, and wishing they’d never gone on this trip. –Patrick Gibbs