Love and marriage, love and marriage, it’s an institute you can disparage not predict given how messy it can all get these days. Most people dream of a big, lavish wedding some want something smaller and more intimate but whatever challenges, good or bad, you may face for your wedding, it’s probably nothing compared to those you may face when you are lovingly betrothed. Indeed, even the smallest thing can snowball (ahem) into something much larger and destroy the strongest of foundations and that’s essential – and figuratively – what Downhill sets out to examine with all the awkwardness and tension along for the ride.
Taking their inspiration from 2014 comedy/drama oddball Force Majeure – also known as a liability clause that covers “unexpected disasters” – this American remake/reimagining comes from the minds of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants, The Way Way Back) whose clever wit and pithy dialogue have won them both plaudits and an Oscar for their work on the former. Those hoping they have replicated that success here will sadly be disappointed as despite their best intentions to shake up the original film and give it a new winter coat, it falls far below their better efforts.
In this version, the majeure force falls around seemingly happily married couple Billie and Pete Staunton (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Will Ferrell). Whilst skiing with their two young sons, an avalanche falls down on them whilst having lunch sending everyone scrambling for cover. Rather than protecting his family, Pete grabs his phone and runs away, with events symbolically mirroring those that the couple has ignored for a peaceful life. Pete has been pulling away since the death of his father with Billie wilfully trying to pick up the pieces but the snowball has become out of control.
Tackling masculinity in the modern world, whether toxic or mentally, as well as examining the institution of marriage and its relevance in 2020, Downhill has some important things to say but it feels superficial, skating on the surface and feeling more like a small snowball in the face rather than an apocalyptic avalanche of human relationships. Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfuss are impressive – as you’d expect – but even they struggle to stay afloat amongst the increasingly muddled story and themes, despite some moments of brilliance.
The problem ultimately lies in the direction of the film, wanting its cake and to eat it too by being both a homage to the original and trying to be its own thing but ends up being neither, stuck in a malaise of Scandinavian and American humour which for the most part just doesn’t land. If it had focused more on the latter it may have connected better but as it is, Downhill just does that: trips and falls its way down the mountain and sadly doesn’t land.
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Comedy, Drama | USA, 2020 | 15 | 28th February 2020 (UK) | Searchlight Pictures | Dir. Nat Faxon, Jim Rash | Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Kristofer Hivju, Zoe Chao