Review by Sean Boelman
Co-written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Way Way Back), Downhill is a remake of the darkly comedic Swedish satire Force Majeure. Taking a lighter (and often funnier) approach to the film’s themes than the source material, Faxon and Rash deliver an entertaining and well-acted dramedy, even if it isn’t as insightful as one would hope.
The movie explores the dynamic of a family in disarray after a disaster leaves them questioning their loyalty and love for each other. Ultimately, the premise is very intriguing, and it is understandable why Faxon and Rash (along with co-writer Jesse Armstrong of Succession fame) wanted to adapt this story for American audiences.
However, one can’t help but feel like this film is too little too late. When Force Majeure was released back in 2014, BlackBerry had hit its prime and was just starting to be usurped by iPhone and Android. Now, when smartphone culture and self-centeredness are even more commonplace, the movie’s central question no longer feels like a thought experiment but something that could actually happen.
As a result, it feels like the characters in the film are highly underutilized. Although the writers do as good of a job as expected of building the tension in the dynamic between the characters, there are multiple instances in which it becomes obvious that there is a lot more potential in these characters’ stories if only the filmmakers weren’t held back by trying to make the movie more widely appealing.
That said, the film does have some extremely funny moments. Miranda Otto, who plays a boisterous and sometimes trouble-making concierge at the resort, steals the screen every time she appears, always bringing the laughs. For the most part, the movie is pretty consistently enjoyable or tense, although there is one ten-minute aside that sadly doesn’t go anywhere.
Another thing working in the favor of the film is its cast. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell have excellent chemistry together, and as a result, it is easy to buy into the core relationship of the movie. Additionally, it is nice to see Ferrell playing a character that is outside of his usual forte, with a much more subdued performance than is usual for him.
The filmmakers do a solid job of using the Alpine setting of the film to their advantage, creating a feeling of coldness that mirrors what the characters are going through in their relationship. Apart from some CGI during the avalanche scene that is less than stellar, the movie mostly looks very good thanks to solid cinematography.
Thanks to inspired casting and a solid script, Downhill is mostly very funny, though it does feel a bit too surface-level at times to be particularly impactful. While Force Majeure is the superior version of this story, Faxon and Rash have delivered what is one of the more impressive American remakes in recent memory.
Downhill opens in theaters on February 14.