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"DOWNHILL"
(2020) (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: After surviving a close call with an avalanche where the husband ran off to save himself and left his wife and kids to fend for themselves, a couple's marriage is put to the test.
PLOT:

Billie (JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS) and Pete (WILL FERRELL) are an American couple doing a ski vacation in the Alps with their boys, Finn (JULIAN GREY) and Emerson (AMMON JACOB FORD). Billie is a bit perturbed that Pete seems obsessed with checking the social postings of his work colleague, Zach (ZACH WOODS), and his girlfriend, Rosie (ZOE CHAO), while Finn and Emerson really don't seem to be having fun.

Things really change when a controlled avalanche gets too close for comfort and part of it covers an outside restaurant deck where Billie, Pete and the boys are having lunch. Acting instinctively, Pete grabs his phone and runs, leaving Billie and their sons to fend for themselves.

No one ends up hurt, but Pete's actions --and lies about what happened -- don't sit well with Billie who finally has it out with him in front of Zach and Rosie who Pete has invited over, much to Billie's surprise. The following morning, Billie wants a day to herself, and the resort's outspoken concierge, Charlotte (MIRANDA OTTO) -- perhaps sensing Billie's dissatisfaction in her marriage -- arranges a private ski lesson with the handsome Guglielmo (GIULIO BERRUTI), while Pete ends up drinking with Zach.

As the next few days wear on, Billie and Pete's relationship ends up strained, with both unsure of how things will turn out.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

In the riveting 2012 drama "The Impossible," Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor played a married couple literally torn apart by a tsunami during their vacation, with the rest of the film revolving around them doing whatever they can to find each other and their kids.

In the 2020 dramedy "Downhill," a massive flow of water in a different state -- this time, snow racing down a mountain -- also impacts a family on vacation, likewise separates the husband and wife (although not to the same extent), and the rest of the film involves them being further split apart.

Based on 2014's "Force Majeure" (which I have not seen), this American remake -- from co-writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash and screenwriter Jesse Armstrong -- clocks in at a cinematically svelte 86 minutes or so but isn't the sort of jaw-dropping disaster and survival film that some might be expecting from the one-line description.

Yes, there's an avalanche -- albeit a planned and controlled one -- but beyond giving Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Pete (Will Ferrell) and their kids (Julian Grey and Ammon Jacob Ford) quite the scare out on the Alpine restaurant deck where they're having lunch, no damage or injuries occur from the initially menacing and fast-moving cloud of snow that briefly covers them.

No, the only impact is how the mom and kids view dear old dad after he realizes what's about to hit them, grabs his phone (that's already served as a point of minor contention with him constantly checking his work colleague's social status posts), and runs off to save himself, leaving the missus and youngins to fend for themselves.

Digging himself even deeper, Pete decides to double-down on his view of the events that it wasn't a big deal and that he clearly didn't "run" away from danger. And he does this in front of that colleague (Zach Woods) and his girlfriend (Zoe Chao) who he's invited over without asking Billie and whose child-free and younger lifestyle has left him envious.

What follows is the marriage coming apart at the seams as the kids side with Billie and Pete half-heartedly tries to keep the family vacation moving forward. Sounds like a grand time, yes? Well, at least the filmmakers inject enough humor to keep things from becoming too dreary and overbearing amongst the beauty of the powdery Alps.

Some of that arrives in the form of Miranda Otto playing the resort's hedonistic concierge who informs the couple that use of the sauna is nude only, openly talks about her open marriage and rampant randiness, and tries hooking up Billie with a handsome and much younger ski instructor (Giulio Berruti). She ends up getting all hot and bothered to the extent that she tries to pleasure herself in a public bathroom stall only to have that end in slapstick style embarrassment.

Yet, despite that and the casting of Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell, the offering is still far more drama than comedy, which might surprise viewers not familiar with the original flick (which will be most everyone outside of critics and art-house aficionados).

I didn't have any issue with that, but do feel that Ferrell is miscast in the part. Yes, a big part of that likely stems from certain goofy comedy stereotypes now associated with him. But it's also that the actor just doesn't seem the right fit for the part (although a certain amount of that also stems from the character not feeling fully developed). Louis-Dreyfus, on the other hand, seems perfectly cast, what with her ability to deliver half-squinty "are you kidding" looks of disapproval that eventually boil over into full-blown marital discord.

Again, I didn't see the original film so I obviously can't make comparisons, but perhaps with more time to develop the characters and their story, this might have worked better than it does. It's certainly no disaster, but "Downhill" ends up following its titular description and heads below the average score line. It rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed February 11, 2020 / Posted February 14, 2020


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