mon 22/04/2024

Downhill review - American remake wanders off-piste | reviews, news & interviews

Downhill review - American remake wanders off-piste

Downhill review - American remake wanders off-piste

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell on a skiing break: it's an uphill struggle

Family time: Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Will Ferrell)

It’s hard to believe that Jesse Armstrong (Succession, Veep) co-wrote the screenplay for this feeble American remake of Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure (2014).

Where Force Majeure is subtle, dark and original (never have electric toothbrushes seemed so significant) Downhill is an unfunny flop in spite of comedy stars Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (she’s also a co-producer) as leads.

It might have been more successful, perhaps, if directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants, The Way, Way Back) hadn’t stuck so slavishly to the original storyline about family disintegration on a skiing holiday, and in fact the moments when Downhill does strike out on its own are its most energetic. Toothbrushes are still in evidence, but this time they’re manual. And both films do show us the essential weirdness of skiing itself: people dwarfed by huge mountains amidst clanking T-bar lifts, cable cars and nightly snow ploughs.

Pete (Ferrell) and Billie (Louis-Dreyfus) are on a five-day skiing break in the Austrian alps with their two young sons, a limp, compliant pair (Julian Grey and Ammon Ford, pictured below), who seem remarkably tolerant of their parents. Pete works in real estate and is supposed to be concentrating on his family – he’s also grieving for his dad who died eight months ago – but he’s addicted to his smart phone. “Let’s just be here, OK?” Billie reminds him saccharinely. He escapes to the bathroom for his social-media fix.Downhill Being here is something that Pete is incapable of, especially when the family is threatened by an avalanche that seems about to engulf the outdoor restaurant where they’re having lunch. One moment everyone’s watching the approach of the rolling wall of snow - “It’s all right, it’s controlled” - the next there’s panic. Once the white-out subsides – the avalanche stopped before reaching the restaurant - a shaken Billie finds herself on her own with the kids. Pete, it seems, has fled, looking out for number one. Whatever happened to the protective father figure? Traditional roles are apparently still very much de rigueur. When he returns, no one says much. Pete orders soup.

But as time goes on, Billie’s rage manifests itself, first in an attack on the safety staff, one of them played by the brilliant Kristofer Hivju (Game of Thrones, Beck) who had a much larger role in Force Majeure. “Screw you, I’m an attorney,” she tells him after he fails to take their complaints seriously. If only that undercurrent of Veep-like neurotic power had been allowed full sway here, but Billie never lets rip in any meaningful way. Her best scene, not borrowed from Force Majeure, is when she has a meltdown before a heli-ski outing that Pete’s arranged.

When Pete invites over his younger colleague Zach (Zach Woods) and his girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao), whose #noagenda travels round Europe Pete’s been stalking on Instagram, Billie is inspired to drag the kids in to testify to the guests that, yes, “Dad ran away” (he refuses to admit to this). This doesn’t have the profound, agonising effect on Zach and Rosie’s relationship that it does on their equivalents in Force Majeure, though later, in one of the more interesting exchanges, Rosie does say to Billie, “He ran away like a fucking pussy. I’d kick Zach in the balls and he’d never see me again. It’s black and white.” “How old are you?” asks Billie. “Thirty.”

To add to the lack of fun, there’s sexy Charlotte (Miranda Otto), the caricature-like hotel rep with an open marriage who tries to set Billie up with heart-throb ski instructor Guglielmo (Giulio Berruti) whose name, being American, she can’t pronounce. The most authentic moment comes from one of the sons: “I hate skiing, it takes forever to go to the bathroom, people are stupid and don’t look where they’re going, and you’re always scared you’re going to die.” A bit more of that kind of honesty might have redeemed this mercifully short, mediocre offering.

If only an undercurrent of 'Veep'-like neurotic power had been allowed full sway here


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters