'Downhill' review: Marital drama on the ski slopes

  • Movie Review
  • Thursday, 27 Feb 2020

Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) have a tense yet comical confrontation with a hotel official (Kristofer Hivju).

Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cast: Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Miranda Otto

Imagine this: You go to a cafe for lunch. You take a table next to a couple, make your order, and look forward to a nice, peaceful meal.

And suddenly, the couple next to you starts arguing. And not quietly, mind you. They have a full-blown confrontation, with each side accusing the other of all sorts of things. What an uncomfortable situation. And yet, it has a certain kind of entertainment. You end up watching out of morbid curiosity, eager to see what secrets will be revealed next.

In a sense, that is what watching the movie Downhill feels like. It's the story of a marriage slowly coming apart. Some parts of it feel very "slice of life", like a reality show. Watching a couple's relationship degrade is not always pleasant, but it certainly is very intriguing.

In Downhill, Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus play Pete and Billie, a long-married couple who take their two pre-teen sons to an Austrian ski resort. The family wants to have fun, but things take a sour turn after they accidentally get caught in an avalanche. It's a minor scare, and no one is hurt. But in that moment of peril, Pete flees, seemingly abandoning his family to their fate.

Billie is, understandably, shocked and hurt. The couple, however, refuses to talk about it, and spend the time together in a state of bitterness and pent-up frustration. They finally confront each other in some very emotionally charged scenes, which will probably make you laugh and cringe at the same time. Can their relationship survive this holiday from hell?

Downhill is a remake of the award-winning 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure, directed by Ruben Ostlund. It is billed as a comedy, but it is a black comedy, with humour deriving from the characters getting into awkward situations. The two characters are drawn very well. Billie is a loving, if occasionally smothering, mother who insists on discipline, while Pete is a more laid-back, fun-loving type. Louis-Dreyfus does a great job in her role. Ferrell does good too, although unsurprisingly, does much better with his comedy over his serious scenes.

The script is well-written, and some scenes will be very relatable, especially to anyone who's had to put up with their partner's quirks in a long-term partnership. It confronts interesting issues, such as how much one is expected to give of oneself in a relationship. Some viewers may find these scenes too close to them for comfort.

The joke got stale pretty fast for these two comedians. The joke got stale pretty fast for these two comedians.

That's the good part of the film. The bad, however, is that the story is rather unfocused. The subtle black comedy of Billie and Pete's relationship is combined with rather broad, toilet humour from the side characters.

Miranda Otto appears as Charlotte, the very promiscuous hotel manager. She gets some funny lines, and looks like she's having a blast, but adds absolutely nothing to the story. Her constant sexual innuendoes are very different from the rest of the show's humour, and it sometimes feels like she accidentally wandered in from a completely different kind of film.

The film's conflict also starts to feel a bit repetitive after the half way point, which is also where the story goes, well, downhill. Some of the story's events start to feel like filler. Many of the jokes are good, and a scene involving the couple's dinner with another couple is a highlight. But there's very little that will stick in the memory. The film also ends on a bit of an abrupt note.

Downhill seems to have been filmed at a real ski-resort, and so is full of lovely snow-capped mountains and gorgeous scenery. You get the feeling that the cast agreed to do this film if only so they could spend a few days skiing in an Alpine paradise. Also look out for a cameo by Kristofer Hivju (Tormund from Game Of Thrones), who starred in the original Force Majeure movie.

Overall, Downhill is a decent, if somewhat underwhelming film. At times it feels like a serious psychological drama disguised as a light comedy. It's a bit of an acquired taste, but there are some good scenes in it definitely worth the watch. If anything, this film may inspire you to take a nice skiing trip in Austria.

Downhill is showing at GSC International Screens.

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6 10


A black comedy looking at marital mayhem.

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