The Stream: For a comedy, the laughs are sporadic, at best.
The Big Screen: Julia Louis-Dreyfus brings sly wit and dramatic chops.
The Final Bill: Interesting premise ultimately squandered in a humorless comedy.– Trip Fontaine
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Writers: Jesse Armstrong (screenplay by), Nat Faxon (screenplay by) | 2 more credits »
Stars: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto
Runtime: 86 minutes
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Notable Trailers: Jungle Cruise, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, The Lovebirds, The Hunt, The Way Back, The Personal History of David Copperfield
Downhill seems to have come from out of nowhere. Suddenly, there is a Will Ferrell movie in the theaters opening on Valentine’s Day weekend; and, multi-Emmy-winning comedienne, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is co-lead. One would think that there is comedy gold here, so why isn’t there more promotion. Well, there’s a little misdirection, here. Downhill is a Hollywood remake of an acclaimed Swedish film, Force Majeure, which was more of a drama than a comedy; and Downhill sets itself apart by adding more obvious comedy elements here, whether or not they are necessary is a separate issue. Nevertheless, the synopsis is as follows: a married couple on a family ski vacation in the Austrian Alps after narrowly escaping an avalanche deal with the simmering tensions and the reality of life and their relationship.
Actually, the premise is quite fascinating. I won’t say exactly what happens with the avalanche, but it’s pretty well depicted in the trailer. It is a funny situation, but it also is very serious. The problem is that the balance of the tone of the film is not well calibrated. The producers cast comedy stars and asked them to perform in this uneven mix of drama and comedy. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is great. She’s captivating. Her performance mines the wry wit of all that happens, and she hits the emotional depth of the drama. Will Ferrell, on the other hand, is ill-equipped to meet the gauntlet that Louis-Dreyfus throws down. Some of the comedy and reactions of Ferrell are good; but, ultimately, his skill with the dramatic elements is lacking. The push and pull of the couple is the main source of comedy and dramatic tension, and the fact that Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus are so unmatched make it ultimately unsatisfying. It really feels like Ferrell was only cast so that Downhill can be marketed as a Will Ferrell comedy, which it is not.
Additionally, Miranda Otto shows up intermittently as a resort guide, who is ingratiating herself with the main couple. She is boldly only there for comic relief. I felt she was completely unnecessary. Otto is having such a ball as this boozy, free-loving lady that she seems dropped in from another movie. There was no genuine laugh coming from anything she did.
On a positive note, the scenery is beautiful. The film is well-shot and may make you consider going to the Alps on a ski vacation. It’s not something that I would want to do, but it looks great. Downhill’s other saving grace is the modest runtime. Although it takes a while for the film to get to the meat of its action, it doesn’t feel belabored. It gets to its point. I only wish it had actually been either funnier, or that Louis-Dreyfus had a more capable comedic and dramatic actor to work with.
So, Downhill has a good premise, but an uneven cast. The film is short and it looks good for those who want to go skiing. It is not as funny as it pretends to be and the dramatic tension feels weak. I suggest waiting for this one to be on your favorite streaming service. There is a compelling conversation to be had after seeing what happens here if you give it a chance. Actually, give Force Majeure itself a viewing. It’s already available on Hulu.