Written by Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, and Jesse Armstrong
Directed by Nat Faxon
I don’t want to write a review that simply compares Downhill to the film it is remaking, Force Majeure, but my god, I have to. Downhill is a recent example of a horrible way movie studios take foreign films and make butchered rehashes that show total disrespect to the audience. This movie loses every single element that made the original such a sharp, well balanced dark comedy and makes themes and characters way too obvious and on the nose. I laughed, possibly once, a slight chuckle, but spent the rest of the runtime having my worries confirmed.
This movie had some perfect ingredients, and it shouldn’t have been this boring and unfunny. While Will Ferrell’s star may have faded in recent years, Julia Louis-Dreyfus just came off of Veep, the best role and series of her acting career where she showcased masterful comedy chops. They are supported by actors like Miranda Otto and Zach Woods. Woods is currently on HBO’s Avenue Five and previously played the hilariously neurotic Jared on Silicon Valley. He’s a great improv talent who has been in pretty much everything I’ve seen him in. The writing side has Jesse Armstrong penning the first draft and comedy partners Nat Faxon & Jim Rash working out the kinks (Faxon also directs). You have a person who writes on Succession as well as two writers who won an Academy Award for The Descendants. This should all add up to something great. But it doesn’t.
The plot is essentially the same as Force Majeure: A married couple and their kids go to the Alps for a skiing vacation. An avalanche occurs but turns out to be a false alarm, however during the initial scare, the husband flees, leaving his family behind. This silent acknowledgment of his abandonment simmers into the disintegration of their marriage, and we aren’t sure if they are going to make it. Most of the movie explores how each person processes what happens, and other people get involved, whether they want to or not.
Downhill fails to use the great cast it has to its advantage. Louis-Dreyfus has a couple of moments that play to her strengths, a brief lesson with a ski instructor gives her a chance to exercise her physical comedy skills, and how well she plays nervous. Will Ferrell is totally wasted in the movie. He plays immature man-children so well, and here you have a father that is reluctant at assuming the protector role in his family. You wouldn’t have to go full Anchorman or Step Brothers here, but finding some middle ground where he can play to those traits.
The finale of the movie is so rushed and poorly developed that I was sat there in shock that it was actually happening. Force Majeure has this scene, but much more happens afterward that better contextualizes it, and the details are kept ambiguous. Here we have the characters being hyperliteral and expositing for the audience why they are doing this and how they feel about it. If Downhill had greatly distanced itself from the source material and done its own thing, then we’d have a different product on our hands. As it is, this remake sets itself up to be criticized and compared to the original.