Downhill is a lazy, uninspired remake

“Downhill” brings us the story of married couple Billie, a cautious and impatient attorney (Julia Richard-Dreyfus) and Pete, an amiable and clingy doofus (Will Ferrell) on a skiing trip in Switzerland with their two sons after barely escaping an avalanche. 

“Downhill” is a remake of the 2014 French film, Force Majeure, directed by Ruben Ostlund. It follows the same story but doesn’t quite reach the emotional punch the original did. Ruben’s Force Majeure is an intelligent, irony-driven look at how fragile masculinity can be while bringing both dread and laughs to the screen. Downhill unfortunately only brings dread, and not the kind you’re thinking of. 

The film makes a choice to begin with these characters already on this trip, so right away, we know nothing about the emotional depth of their relationship. This can be frustrating because the runtime is only an hour and 26 minutes. We never get to fully grasp the history with this couple simply because there isn’t enough time to do so. 

About 30 minutes in, the family experiences a “controlled avalanche” set off by the resort staff that comes tumbling down to where the family is about to order their lunch outdoors. Pete grabs his phone and runs off in fear while Billie is left comforting the frightened children. Later on, Pete is in denial and claims he did not run away, while Billie is beside herself with anguish. 

You can say this scene is a beat-for-beat remake of Ruben’s film, which can either come off as paying homage to the original or completely ripping it off. I would have to say it comes off as ripping it off, which is disappointing because the writers have done great work before, like 2011’s The Descendants. The film comes off lazy and seems to lack any new ideas to bring to the table.

Despite being Americanized and shallow, the film does have some positives. Dreyfus and Ferrell give likeable performances, but the two boys who play their sons come off as wooden and flat. “Downhill” joins the group of American comedies too afraid to really go for it, playing it safe in order to please the audience. If the movie gave more depth to its characters, it could’ve had a much more compelling story to tell with more meat on its bones. 

“Downhill” is not a colossal mistake—I wouldn’t even consider it a bad film—but I can’t ignore the safe and at times lazy screenplay. It soars to the top of the list of films you should never watch with your partner.

bzegers@mail.umkc.edu

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