If I were to tell you that Downhill was a disaster movie featuring an avalanche, you’d probably guess that the avalanche was the real disaster. But, you’d be wrong. Downhill centers on a disaster of a different kind, one of a much more frightening nature than a mere force of nature, in the opinion of this critic. A desperate fight for the survival of a relationship amidst treacherously frosty conditions.
Downhill enjoyed its World Premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival on January 26, where it received a lukewarm reception. The film stars Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus alongside a hilarious ensemble cast featuring Miranda Otto, Zach Woods, Zoe Chao, and Kristofer Hivju, who you’ll all remember from his stellar performance as Tormund Giantsbane on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash bring a shared directing credit and familiarity with comedy to the film.
As many a discerning film buff has already pointed out, Downhill is an extremely close American remake of the 2014 Swedish film, Force Majeure. For better or for worse, Downhill echoes the original in nearly every way from the plot, to the tone, to the execution, and even some eerily similar shots and poster fonts. Whether this makes Downhill a disappointment or not is in the eye of the beholder. In Downhill, married couple Billie (Louis-Dreyfus) and Peter (Ferrell) are thrown into disarray when an avalanche rocks their family ski vacation in the Alps. In mere moments, the event forces them to reevaluate their lives and their marriage. Suffice to say, it gets pretty cold on that mountain and we’re not talking about the snow.
One of the more fascinating elements in Downhill is the way it plays with our perspective and emotions when it comes to these couples. It is a case study in complicated relationships, grounded in a realism that is uncomfortable to watch. Despite the fact that we’re looking at two wildly different classes of film, one can’t help but remember Marriage Story when looking at Downhill. The film is a constant tug of war, as we witness and understand both (very different) perspectives on the same set of facts. Equally valid, yet equally dismissible in turn.
It feels voyeuristic to watch these cracks appear within a marriage, as well as within our characters. Outside of the emotion and awkwardness, the film is incredibly funny… in a frosty sort of way. One can liken the experience to a dinner party, where your friends are making swiping remarks at one another. It’s all in good fun, until the exact moment you realize it isn’t. Downhill does a great job walking that tightrope of tension while still feeling lighthearted!
Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell bring a grounded realism to their roles, with enough comedic instinct to let the humor shine through. Both Billie and Peter are immensely unlikable, making our natural viewer impulse to choose sides damn near impossible. It’s one of the best elements of the film. They’re both great, but the really impressive work is being done by the rest of the ensemble. Miranda Otto is especially hilarious as the free-spirited Charlotte, stealing absolutely every scene she is in.
It’s difficult to pass a verdict on a film like Downhill. The foundation is solid, it accomplishes what it sets out to, but overall the film seems out of balance. For every moment that is genuinely hilarious and great, there is another that drags on or doesn’t quite land.
If romantic comedies are for young lovers, Downhill is for all the tired, long-term relationships that have taken a beating but have lived to fight another day. In this way, it’s oddly perfect as a Valentine’s Day watch. Give it a chance!
Downhill hits theaters on Valentine’s Day 2020 and is, notably, the first film to be released under the newly acquired Searchlight Pictures (formerly Fox Searchlight Pictures).
Need to grab your tickets? Check out showtimes using out Fandango affiliate link.
Caitlin is a sweater enthusiast, film critic, and lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began with being shown Rosemary’s Baby at a particularly impressionable age and she’s been hooked ever since. She loves a good bourbon and hates people who talk in movies. Caitlin has been writing since 2014 and you can find her work on Film Inquiry, The Financial Diet, Nightmarish Conjurings, and many others.