Downhill (2020)
Downhill (2020)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.

Release Date: February 14th, 2020 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash Actors: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Zach Woods, Zoe Chao, Ammon Jacob Ford, Julian Grey, Giulio Berruti

 


 

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ete Stanton (Will Ferrell) and his wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and their two children are in Austria for a grand ski vacation. It doesn’t matter that they booked a hotel typically reserved exclusively for adults, or that Pete’s pal Zach (Zach Woods) seems to be having a concurrent getaway better fueled by unrestricted adventurism and wild hashtags, or that the Stanton boys are a handful. The sights are majestic and the slopes are inviting. Plus, the family is all together.

When a controlled blast causes an avalanche in the vicinity of the Stanton’s lunch, blanketing the deck of the restaurant at which they dine with snow and dust, chaos ensues. Although the incident is supposedly well within the norms of the Alps, and no one was hurt, the Stanton family is thoroughly rattled. In that split second when they all thought they might die, their immediate, disparate reactions unavoidably come to define their feelings toward one another, weighing heavily on the remainder of their snowy holiday.

With that instance of fear comes additional, burgeoning thoughts of cowardice, confusion, blame, and guilt. Recent, personal tragedies may have played a role with Pete’s behavior, but the simpler feelings of surprise, self-preservation, and denial factor into the turmoil. It’s a fascinating character study of a family falling apart, spearheaded by the former impressions of their loved ones unraveling; when it comes to moments of sudden, unpredictable calamities, true colors tend to emerge.

Although the supporting roles are generally way over-the-top (particularly Miranda Otto as a free-spirited, promiscuous hotelier), there’s a striking realism to the familial drama. Anyone anticipating an outright laughfest will surely be disappointed. Humor is pervasive, however, present in nearly every confrontation and interaction, yet it’s the kind that arrives in subtler, tinier proportions, oftentimes arising from the existing tensions and discomfort of arguments in front of others or candid sexual exchanges. It’s never slapstick silly, but it’s difficult to dismiss the amusement of awkwardness.

Perhaps more effective are the contrasting characters and the way that bitterness and disappointment invade the Stanton’s relationship, exposing the rights and wrongs and the elusive path to reparation. Zach and his girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao) represent the opposite end of the spectrum (“We’re experimenting with new!”), embracing youth, the lack of children, and the freedoms inherent in early romance – the black-and-white of determining what makes people simply happy together. Pete and Billie, on the other hand, with their age and experiences and years of building a family, must concern themselves with far greater intricacies and the consequences of succumbing to impulsiveness.

The majority of “Downhill” dives into emotional, sometimes saddening material; with its focus on realistic tragedy over cartoonish buffoonery, the shiny veneer of contentedness appears woefully thin. Even when unwarranted advice, intrusive questioning, and the shattering of boundaries generate light humor, the plot quickly returns to dourer introspection, regret, and psychological isolation – exceptional qualities for a moving drama, but poorer themes for fantastical farce. The story still works, with the bigger revelations and solutions packing a punch – especially with the ordinariness of the personas and their plight – though it’s a shame that it’s not original. “Downhill” is an Americanized remake of 2014’s highly acclaimed Swedish film “Force Majeure.”

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10