Downhill Movie Review
When an avalanche strikes, don't run away, leaving your wife and children to fend for themselves. That’s the line I used to begin my movie review of the 2014 drama Force Majeure, a subtle, nuanced character study about an instinctual action that drives a seemingly normal relationship to the edge of ruin. The same holds true for its American remake, Downhill, minus the “subtle” and “nuanced” parts.
Yes, Hollywood took a Golden Globe-nominated drama and remade it into an 86-minute Will Ferrell/Julia Louis-Dreyfuss dramedy. Why? Because they can, damn it.
As is often the case with remakes of foreign language films, Downhill loses some of what made the story so compelling in the original. Ruben Östlund’s drama sought to dissect a marriage by digging into the smallest, momentary of cracks and prying it open, but to do so he took extreme care to unravel his characters in detailed, intriguing ways. Neither character was particularly likeable, but the fracturing of their relationship made sense.
With Downhill, directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Way Way Back) show they don’t quite have the restraint and regard for the little things. The casting of both Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfuss, two actors not particularly known for their restraint, exemplifies that further, though both do a fine job in their respective roles.
Of course, we didn’t need another Force Majeure. As good as elements of it was, at nearly two hours long it was a slog in places. Downhill, nearly 30 minutes shorter, benefits from streamlined storytelling and an embellishing of key moments. It may not be as compelling, but it is more entertaining.
Downhill does suffer from a similar trait, unfortunately: the two main leads are wholly unlikable. Ferrell’s character reacts to the threat of death poorly, but spends the rest of the movie refusing to simply apologize or make light of the situation. Louis-Dreyfus, meanwhile, spends the entire movie as a bundle of stress; the heli-ski scene is extremely well done and aggravating, but her character never recovers from the meltdown.
Downhill improves upon aspects of Force Majeure--but at the expense of the nuanced details that made the whole premise fascinating in the first place. It’s more entertaining, more accessible, but that doesn’t make it worth the plunge.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.