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March 6, 2020

Downhill (2020) --- “A Different Kind of Disaster Movie.”


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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     The Stanton family - Pete (Will Ferrell), Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and their sons(Julian Grey, Ammon Jacob Ford) - take a much-needed break in an Austrian Alpine ski resort town to reconnect as a family, especially with busy dad Pete, who is also still mourning the death of his father 8 months earlier. But when a controlled avalanche looks as if it’s about to consume the restaurant patio where the family is lunching, Pete’s fight or flight mode kicks in and he abandons his family to face apparent certain death. When the snow cloud dissipates and everyone appears to be unharmed, the fun family vacation quickly goes downhill as Pete and Billie are forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other. Directed by Nat Faxon (The Way, Way Back) and Jim Rash (The Way, Way Back), and co-written alongside Jesse Armstrong (Fresh Meat), Downhill (2020) is a dark comedy-drama inspired by the film Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s (The Force) 2014 award-winning film, Force Majeure
     Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to see the original film so I cannot give a good comparison based on the two films. However, I will say that every remake, in fact every film, deserves to be viewed on its own merits. Nevertheless, it is sad to see the kind of talent that had a hand in making this film deliver something that is a bit lackluster and one-dimensional and I will explain why. After the first 30 minutes, it becomes clear that Pete is having a midlife crisis because he’s booked the family in a singles resort instead of the family one 20 minutes away and is obsessed with his younger co-worker Zach (Zack Woods), who is living his best life all over his Instagram page. When it comes to their "near-death" experience the story shifts from a situation that suddenly goes from having the world at their fingertips to seeing the glaring cracks in their once-perfect life. From there much of the film is filled with meaningless and over-the-top dramatic banter that is either improvised or laugh-free and struggles to maintain a delicate tone throughout. It’s as if the filmmakers don’t trust the audience to know when a scene is intended to be funny, serious, or a bit of both. The “comedic parts” are awkward and not actually funny, while the “serious parts” are more like watching children throwing a tantrum over having to share. All in all, this 86-minute film seems to drag on at an awkward pace and an awkward tone.
     The cast performances were okay. I have never been a huge fan of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s (Veep) style of acting and I am still not one even after seeing this film. While I found her to be a good fit for the role, she was also very annoying and bitchy, a character that I easily disliked. It is clear very early on that Billie is a controlling and judgemental person who must always be right and can’t accept seeing things from someone’s point of view. She babies her boys and even treats Pete as if he’s an imbecile who needs to be told what to do. When Pete leaves her and the kids during the incident she immediately determines that she knows everything that happened - knows what Pete felt, what he thought, what his survival instincts forced him to do - and didn’t leave any room to consider anyone else’s opinion or viewpoint. When Pete tries to apologize and explain how he’s felt since the incident - even though it’s days later - she shuts him down and scolds him for his efforts in trying to make amends. Her only consensus for forgiving Pete is if he molds himself to fit into her view of who he should be. As for Will Ferrell (The Prince of Fashion), I have always enjoyed his films but here I felt like he was wasted. This is definitely a Billie show, while Pete is pushed to the background and made to be out to be the bad guy. Now don’t get me wrong, Ferrell does a good job with the role he is given but I think someone like Sam Rockwell to have been a stronger choice to delve into Pete’s themes rather than Ferrell’s surreal attempt. The rest of the characters are good but since the main characters are lackluster and focus only on themselves, the supporting cast is both given the chance to fully shine in their scenes. Miranda Otto (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) was supposed to be used as a source of comic relief but her “humor” was annoying, awkward, and not very funny, while the sons were underused as well and looked as if they would rather be anywhere else.

     Overall, Downhill (2020) is a good film that will entertain audiences but it just wasn’t the one meant for me. The story and characters were lackluster, one-dimensional, and quite annoying most of the time. Billie was the most self-centered and controlling one while Pete was undercast. According to other reviews the original source material, Force Majeure, was a lot better than this film. Nevertheless, as I stated before, every film deserves the chance to be viewed on its own merits and I encourage you to watch this film and come to your own opinion. Will they agree with mine? Or will they offer a different point of view?

Final Vote --- 6 of 10 stars

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