Friday Film Review - Downhill

Feb 21, 2020

Released only two weeks after its Sundance Film Festival premiere, “Downhill” refers not only to a ski vacation but also to what's going on with a marriage before our eyes.  Barb Bretz has this week’s Friday Film review.

Directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash were at Sundance in 2013 with a warm and witty film called, “The Way Way Back.” This year, along with co-writer Jesse Armstrong, they brought us “Downhill.”

This film is a remake of a 2014 Swedish film entitled “Force Majeure,” which has screened at the Santy by Park City Film. I saw it and do no remember it being a comedy.

“Force Majeure” translated into English means “superior force.” It also refers to a contractual clause removing liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes which interrupt the  expected course of events and restrict participants from fulfilling obligations. That's a legalese mouthful but also the basic story arc for both films. 

With a cast headed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell...no matter how serious the storyline or situation...how could comedy NOT come through somewhere, somehow? “Downhill” could disappoint those expecting to see Ferrell at his usual level of goofiness.

I'm not a spoiler so, in a nutshell, an American family; Billie and Pete Staunton and their two boys spend a week at an Austrian ski resort. In addition to some pre-existing relationship tension the family goes through a traumatic experience to which they react very differently and could impact the survival - or not - of the marriage.

Dreyfus never disappoints. Her character Billie goes through a whole spectrum of emotions and she pulls it off. She is the more likeable of the Stauntons and is definitely the hero of the film.

Ferrell, as husband Pete, on the other hand...is NOT the hero but he too does a great job. He is annoying to say the least and funny at times but more in a pitiful than entertaining way. His antics off-camera, however, were typical Ferrell. One day while skiing alone he followed a long beautiful run into a small town in Switzerland - the country next to Austria - and a 3-hour drive from where he needed to be.

“Downhill” was filmed in Ischgl for those of you who may have skied there. I saw the cast interviewed and found it interesting that Dreyfus and Ferrell had not met each other prior to the project. They did their own skiing and loved that the film premiered in the mountains of Park City.

“Downhill” runs one hour and 26 chilling cold-shoulder minutes and is rated R for language and some sexual material. This is Barb Bretz with your Friday Film Review. See you at the movies!