At first glance, Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus seem to be a match made in comedy heaven. Even though Ferrell’s outrageous, over-the-top shtick can get old at times, Louis-Dreyfus’ dry wit would be the perfect foil. They’ve both had hits and misses in their careers, but as many times as they’ve struck comedic gold, a movie combining the two would at least be funny.
Well, if nonstop laughs were your expectation heading into “Downhill,” the duo’s latest film, then disappointment awaits. After the surprise success of the 2014 Swedish comedy-drama “Force Majeure,” co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash decided to try and pull off an American reboot.
The only thing is, there was no need for it – the original is just fine. If Bong Joon-Ho and the success of “Parasite” this awards season taught us anything, it’s that people need to seek out more foreign films, not Americanize them into simplified, soulless versions.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what “Downhill” does.
Based on the same premise as its Swedish source material, “Downhill” follows a family thrust into turmoil while on a ski vacation in the Alps. When an avalanche startles the vacationers one afternoon, Pete (Ferrell) flees in an attempt to save himself, leaving his wife, Billie (Louis-Dreyfus), and their two boys to fend for themselves. It turns out, the avalanche was controlled and no one was ever in any real danger. While there may not be any physical damage from the deluge of snow, Pete’s instinctual abandonment of his family has opened a number of emotional wounds between the couple.
The problem with “Downhill” lies in its inability to find an identity. Part drama, part comedy, it never fully embraces either, instead leaving itself somewhere in between the two in a state of disappointment. “Force Majeure” was praised for its subtleties – the way it forced viewers into uncomfortable situations. In this American remake, those nuances are instead replaced by crude sexual humor and unnecessary drunkenness.
Despite those two qualities typically going hand in hand with any traditional Will Ferrell performance, he’s not his usual self here. Instead, he attempts to show restraint, but due to miscalculated humor, it ends up falling flat and unfunny. Louis-Dreyfus does the best with what she’s given, but even she has trouble turning this film’s humor into a positive. She does, however, deliver a few worthy scenes during some of the film’s more dramatic moments after her world is turned upside down, but by then it’s too little too late.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle “Downhill” faces is in its characters. Simply put, they just aren’t very likable. Ferrell’s Pete is painted to be the villain, and rightfully so after his selfish escape attempt, but he’s not the only one with flaws. Billie struggles in her own right as she is tempted by a hunky ski instructor, and the couple’s friends, Zach (Zach Woods) and Rosie (Zoe Chao) only make things more uncomfortable – and not in the way the movie wanted.
If you were hoping for a laugh-out-loud comedy or a profound emotional drama, then prepare to be disappointed. It’s not a complete disaster, and at just 86 minutes it will be over before you know it, but contrary to its title, “Downhill” is definitely an uphill battle.
Star Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.