Downhill (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, US, 2020, 86 mins

Cast:  Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Miranda Otto

Review by Carol Allen

An American remake of the Scandinavian movie Force Majeure, this is perhaps predictably a somewhat lighter piece of work.  The drama is less intense and the comedic moments less dark than those of the source material, though the fact that it has Will Ferrell in the lead may create expectations of more comedy than is actually present.

Pete Stanton (Ferrell), and his wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are on holiday with their two young sons in the Austrian Alps.   Everything is going reasonably well, apart from Pete’s obsessive love affair with his mobile phone.  But then early on in the holiday an avalanche descends on them and other diners, when they are having lunch on the hotel terrace.  Panic all round.  And does Pete do his best to protect his family?  No, he seizes his mobile phone and does a runner.

As it happens, the avalanche is not that dangerous.  No one is hurt.  But the effect on the Stanton marriage is calamitous, exposing as it does the cracks that the family normally manage to ignore.

There are some nice moments of comedy in the opening scenes, where directors Nat Faxon and Jim take the rise out of how fusspot Americans behave, when abroad in that strange land of Europe.  Ferrell plays this section well, resisting the temptation to over egg his acting with comic mugging, while American tv star Louis-Dreyfus, who also produced the film, is very engaging as Billie. There is also a bizarrely eccentric contribution from Miranda Otto as Charlotte, a hotel greeter, who cannot stop banging on about her sexual exploits.  Not quite sure what her function in the story is, though the character is imported from the original film.

The avalanche itself and its immediate aftermath are handled well, as is initially the “elephant in the room” situation of Pete’s behaviour, which no-one at first wants to confront.  But then for the rest of the film, when it should be forensically dissecting the marriage in question, everything goes a bit limp, meandering and not very interesting.

A younger couple, whose apparently carefree lifestyle Pete envies, arrive and stir the pot a bit.  Billie enjoys a flirtation with a ski instructor (Giulio Berruti) and Pete gets up to a few forgettable antics.  Downhill all the way to quote the unfortunately chosen title.

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