The family that skis together can hardly remain together in Downhill, a vigorous little dramedy of errors set in the after-effects of an avalanche.
Pete ( Will Ferrell) and Billie ( Julia Louis-Dreyfus) have brought their 2 young boys along on a winter season family vacation to the Austrian alps that, for a great 15 minute at least, has all the creamy upper-middle-class gloss of a Nancy Meyers film: lux décor, simple small talk, room-service French french fries taken in by happy middle-aged individuals in plush bathrobes.
However when a regular snow-maintenance procedure on the mountain turns into a frightening near-death experience– and Pete reacts by grabbing his phone and bolting for security, leaving Billie far behind with the boys– something in their marital relationship cracks.
Downhill is a loose adjustment of a fantastic 2014 Swedish movie called Force Majeure, and like so many things America recasts in its own image, the storyline becomes both shinier and a lot less subtle in translation.
There’s still lots of cringe in co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s comedy: Pete’s progressively absurd efforts to avoid confronting what he’s done; a heli-skiing plan shot to hell; a journey to a daytime disco that makes an excellent case for sobriety. Though the set seems happy in the end to leave the real discomfort, and the deeper psychological digging, to their predecessor.
Louis-Dreyfus, a minimum of, practically can’t assist however bring more to the table; her eyebrows knit and jaw clenched in shock, she grounds her efficiency in the truth of a lady unexpectedly understanding she may not truly understand the man she wed– or that she’s clocked his weak points way too well to let this episode go.
Pete is more of a basic Ferrell man-child, with a little additional messiness in the mix: Still grieving the daddy who died 8 months earlier, he’s not so much processing his sorrow as sublimating it into an extended jag of social-media envy and self pity. So when a more youthful colleague ( Zach Woods) and his new girlfriend (Zoe Chao) broadcast their hashtag happiness from some lederhosen spot nearby, he loses no time at all roping them in.
If he’s hoping they’ll defuse the tension, he’s incorrect; he might have been better off leaning on the resort’s social director, a loony Teutonic libertine in white spandex (British starlet Miranda Otto, having a ball), or just saying sorry while he had the opportunity.
While the movie shares Majeure‘s indelible jagged-violin soundtrack and a nearly identical avalanche series (along with a winky cameo from one of its initial stars, Video Game of Thrones‘ superbly fire-bearded Kristofer Hivju), it takes bigger liberties with practically everything else, consisting of an infidelity subplot and much of the discussion.
That’s why it’s probably better to take the story on its own terms and not as a pasteurized, neatly repackaged variation of the initial. As an attempt to scale the craggy heights of a marriage in crisis, Downhill may be more bunny slope than black diamond– a force mineure, but still worth the journey. B
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