Will Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfrus Star in Disastrous Remake.
DIRECTED BY: NAT FAXON AND JIM RASH/2020
Downhill. An apt title for a film that begins low and can go nowhere else but down. This is a film that did not need to be made. A remake of Ruben Östlund’s 2014 film Force Majeure, this remake feels the need to dumb down every aspect of the far superior original. Downhill is simply Force Majeure wrapped in a Will Ferrell movie, only, a Will Ferrell movie where Will Ferrell is boring. Downhill is the bunny-slopes version of the black diamond superior Force Majeure.
The year before Force Majeure documented the cracks in the main couple’s marriage, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash directed their fantastic coming of age tale, The Way Way Back, which also documented the fractured nature of family relationships, albeit of a different sort. That film features a stellar cast of Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, and Allison Janney. For Downhill, they rightly cast Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Billie. She is an anchor for this story, and is the only real reason this story gets on the lift. Steve Carell would have nailed the role of Pete, Billie’s husband. Instead, Will Ferrell gives it a shot, but despite a valiant effort, he is simply miscast here, and the story, which tries to inject more humor than its superior original, falls flat as Ferrell is having to restrain his type of comedic tendencies to service the larger story.
Billie and Pete are a couple who have brought their two sons to France to ski. For Pete, who lost his father 8 months earlier, it’s a chance to reconnect with his family after spending time mourning. When, during a meal on a rooftop cafe, a controlled avalanche looks to be much more, Billie is frozen in fear, clutching her two sons for dear life. Pete, however, grabs his cell phone and runs. This one incident will reveal that it is their marital relationship that is perhaps heading downhill. Unfortunately, what is actually heading downhill is the film itself.
In this version of the story, Miranda Otto plays the hotel desk clerk, Charlotte. She plays it up nearly to the point of caricature, but restrains herself just enough to keep the role from being a complete waste. Her main function is to simply steer Billie towards contemplating infidelity- with comedic flourishes. Zach Woods and Zoe Chao play Zach and Rosie, Pete’s co-worker and his girlfriend, respectfully. They have embraced the “no-structure” worldview wherein they simply take life wherever it takes them. This is of course longed for by both Pete and Billie whose family commitments keep them locked in a box of sorts….that is until Pete points out that Zach knows exactly where he will be on Monday, given that he has a work commitment. Suddenly the bohemian lifestyle Zach and Rosie espouse, is simply laid to rest… just like that.
Downhill, to borrow some more skiing metaphors, seems to be in such a rush to make it down the mountain, that it passes up everything that worked in Force Majeure to build the tension between this couple. Not once in Downhill did I get the feeling that there was deep affection between Billie and Pete like it did in Force Majeure. They simply seem to co-exist.
Once the avalanche reveals their rift, the entirety of Downhill is spent with Billie simply angry, and Pete unable to emote at all. The original take on this story gave us the chance to truly see the event through the eyes of both protagonists, realizing that the only hope they had was to truly empathize with the other’s view and work to find solid ground. Here, Pete is truly the villain, and even their attempt at reconciliation is an invention of Billie. Pete is emasculated from his role within his own family for the entire film. I don’t understand the marketing push to frame this as a “Valentine Day” type of film. This is a film you take a date to in order to break up.
When Parasite won Best Picture and Best Director at this year’s Academy Awards, director Bong Joon Ho said, “Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”. He was spot on. Downhill, is the antithesis of this sentiment. Downhill is another example of American studios trying to remake a film so that one doesn’t have to read the subtitles. They also try to remove the uncomfortable tension (hence the attempts at more comedy). As a result, they’ve destroyed the very thing in their version that they no doubt loved in the original.
This film is a disaster, an avalanche of its own making. The only good that will come out of it is that it will be forgotten and the original film, Force Majeure, will still be there to be discovered for those who can overcome the one inch barrier of subtitles Bong Joon Ho mentioned. Other possible Americanized remakes of superior foreign films be warned… I’m looking at you, possible Toni Erdmann remake.