While it’s hard for directors to do a remake of a foreign-language from any country, the results aren’t always going to be great when the likely chance of it not being remotely worthy. Kind of think of it, trying to think of some that were superior is difficult to come upon the spot. With Downhill, this is an American re-telling of the 2014 Swedish dark comedy Force Majeure, helmed by Ruben Östlund, and it’s hard to know if this dramedy will work for everybody.
What’s the Story: Barely escaping an avalanche during a family ski vacation in the Alps, a married couple, Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete Staunton (Will Ferrell) is thrown into disarray as they are forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other.
Have I seen the original? No, but I heard it was one of the best foreign-language films of that year. The only thing I ever saw from it was the avalanche scene that looked amazing. So comparing the two seems pointless. The news of Searchlight Pictures, the first movie under the new name (feels strange, though), handling this had me curious since this is coming from someone who went in cold.Not only that, but this is directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who won an Oscar for co-writing the excellent The Descendants, and this is a follow-up to their 2013 debut The Way, Way Back, an underrated coming-of-age film from its admirers. All that said, Downhill disappointed me, and it wasn’t a total shocker after the mixed reaction from Sundance.
This sudden situation makes you think differently when someone doesn’t even try to protect the people you love, and it’s shown clearly when it comes to the relationship Pete has with his family. Just as I was watching what happened, knowing that he grabs his phone and not being around his family without knowing what to do made me realize I would do whatever it takes to make sure they are safe. Because of this, it makes the rest of the vacation feel weird. Let’s just say if anything like that happened with my future wife and kids, the best way to actually talk about this. What not to do is ignore it and making things worse.
Ferrell and Louise-Dreyfus are some of the funniest people working today, which made me excited to know they would play a couple together. Even if the screenplay they had to work with couldn’t be better, they offer good enough performances to make up for their chemistry being weak. Who was better? Well, Louise-Dreyfus showed more range as Billie and she was more likable out of the two. Though Ferrell isn’t a stranger in the slightest dramatic roles, he wasn’t convincing me he can pull off a layered character, even though he cares about his family. The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize he was just felt miscast.
The supporting cast also did fine with their roles. Probably to one that had the most fun with her role was Miranda Otto as Charlotte, the concierge of the resort the family is staying at. She, at least, makes any scene worthwhile when it involves her. We also have Zach Woods as Pete’s younger co-worker and Zoë Chao as his new girlfriend who came to visit while on vacation. I guess I wanted to know more about them.
There is some beautiful cinematography by Danny Cohen that showcases the snowy Austrian Alps mountains, almost making me want to go skiing, but I should take some lessons to become decent at it. Still, that’s not enough to save this movie.
When it comes down to the laughs, this is the first comedy all year where every joke didn’t work for me. The screenplay by Faxon, Rash, and Succession creator Jesse Armstrong makes no justifiable reason why this needed to be made. The only time I got a quick chuckle was when Ferrell was eating ribs with a fork and knife. It was, for some reason, humorous. Even when it wanted to be dramatic with what the conflict was shown with Pete running away, it wasn’t anything to have me fully intrigued of how everything will come together since trying to throw in both tones made it awkward when it’s just a scene of them arguing, explaining the reasonings.
Maybe in the original, it had better-written characters and made the viewer understand both sides of what the couple is going through at the moment. I was hoping Faxon and Rush would do a memorable turn on this storyline that would be more engaging for a new audience. Unfortunately, it felt like a dud where I had no clue if I was supposed to laugh at a certain scene.
Despite the comedic talents behind the camera and its leads in Ferrell and Louise-Dreyfus, Downhill turned to be a bland, awkward, and not-so-funny remake of its Swedish counterpart. Luckily, this was only an easy 86 minutes, though it could’ve been longer but not overstay its welcome. Just comes to show that not every remake for the U.S. can be translated right for the English audience. This is rightfully so just a rental or just don’t bother with it at all. Can we please see Ferrell in a good comedy, please?!