Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Zach Woods, Zoë Chao, Miranda Otto, Julian Grey, Kristofer Hivju
Runtime: 1 hr 27 mins
Rating: NC16 (Sexual References & Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Walt Disney
Opening Day: 13 February 2020
Synopsis: Barely escaping an avalanche during a family ski vacation in the Alps, a married couple is thrown into disarray as they are forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell star in this biting comedy. Inspired by the motion picture FORCE MAJEURE by Ruben Ostlund.
One of Hollywood’s favourite pastimes is to dig out some prestigious acclaimed or popular foreign features and remake them for the general audience worldwide. For example, The Upside, The Departed, Solaris, The Birdcage just to name a few. Downhill is the latest to join the ever-growing list.
Inspired by Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure (2014), Downhill tells the story of the Stauntons, a supposedly privileged American family who is on vacation in the Alps. When a controlled avalanche happened in the midst of the Stauntons’ lunch, Pete (Will Ferrell) heads right off to safety with his phone leaving his wife, Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and their two sons in the lurch. When everything is over and safe, Pete reappears and pretends nothing has ever happened. With Pete’s selfishness and cowardice witnessed by his entire family, Billie is not just upset by Pete’s actions but his subsequent unwillingness to own up and admit his mistakes.
Although this American remake retains much of the original elements, it doesn’t really improve on the comedy and most importantly, the messages. What is the movie trying to prove? Does it hit you in terms of emotion and sentimentality? Sadly, the answer is no. While the original takes a more subtle, artsy approach, Downhill attempts to streamline the narrative but choses to make it so ambiguous that the end product feels detached, cold and unsatisfying.
Despite running at a brief 87 minutes, the movie barely contains enough interesting ideas to carry it to the finishing line. The movie is often peppered with nice shots of Alps, perhaps as a distraction to the hollow script or nothing more than fillers. Directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who also co-wrote the script obviously fumbles with the material, not knowing how to take this dramedy to another level. In retrospect, Faxon and Rash who actually did a great job with The Descendants and The Way, Way Back seems more at ease with original material than remakes.
Older viewers who will know Julia Louis-Dreyfus from the hit sitcom, Seinfeld impresses with her performance as the frustrated Billie. Louis-Dreyfus is fantastic with her wide range of emotions on display. A near sexual encounter with a charming, macho skiing coach serves as the movie’s sole highlight. Australian Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings) appears on-and-off as the resort’s sultry, sex-loving receptionist Charlotte, a character that probably deserves her own spin-off than this boring drama. Leading man Will Ferrell is unfortunately miscast as Pete. Though he tries hard to suppress his usual wild, over-the-top persona, he is simply unbelievable as the perhaps tortured Pete.
The repetitive hammering of the passing of Pete’s dad never result in anything. Maybe Pete is suffering from a prolonged grief disorder if it makes things far more interesting. And there seems to be some underlying marriage or trust issues between Pete and Billie before the trip that were never really addressed. Downhill is a wasted opportunity all in all. It’s not funny nor even engaging for the most part. Even supporting actors liked Zach Wood and Zoe Chao adds no mileage to the entire affair.
(It’s a clear reminder that Downhill is not going to be listed as a remake worth watching)
Review by Linus Tee