In Brief: The perfect title. This one goes downhill in a hurry.
Downhill heads downhill quickly. It stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell. She gets top billing. It’s probably an alphabetical thing. Or maybe he lost the coin toss. Whatever, as you know they’re both comedians thus Downhill is billed as a comedy first and then as a drama.
Though a large number of people at the promotional screening I attended, laughed, it’s not all that funny. Other than a great performance from Louis-Dreyfus it’s not all that dramatic either.
Let’s address the comedy first. Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus are known as comedians. So people laughed in the film and I think inappropriately. Ha, ha, ha, it’s these two so their lines must be funny. It almost seemed like there is an obligation to laugh. That mindset led to a lot of inappropriate cackling.
It has me flummoxed.
At this point setting the plot plate is in order. The two actors play a couple who are skiing at a swank resort in the Alps with their two preteen boys. You can tell they’re not all that happy and that Billie and Pete have a tense relationship. One afternoon while they’re having lunch maintenance crews set off an explosion to create a controlled avalanche.
It looks like the avalanche is going to bury the area where the couple and their kids are sitting. Seeing the snow is going to hit them, Pete panics, grabs his phone and runs. He leaves Billie and the kids to fend for themselves.
The avalanche dumps a bunch of snow on those eating lunch but not enough to cause anyone harm other than scaring them practically to death. What isn’t lost on Billie is that Pete abandoned them and they could have died.
That’s at the heart of Downhill and leads me back to the audience laughter. Not much in the script is funny. This is a heavy flick about the disintegration of a marriage. It’s not humorous. Not even close. At some point the audience figured that out and — gratefully — they stopped laughing.
While the movie pretty much sucks, some of the acting does not. To his credit, Ferrell plays it straight. That’s a good thing. Usually Ferrell is better when he’s not doing comedy. That’s not the case here. He plays Pete as a very shallow, insecure man who struggles under the thumb of his almost alpha male wife.
Pete is constantly checking his phone and communicating with a coworker who just happens to be touring Europe at the same time they’re in the Alps. He’s supposed to be green with envy that the guy is having a blast with a gorgeous girlfriend while he’s stuck with the overbearing wife and the uncommunicative kids.
Ferrell seems as bored and distracted with the material as Pete. He never convinces you that he’s green with envy or has any kind of emotions at all.
I can’t recommend this movie but I can recommend Louis-Dreyfus’ performance. She takes a terribly shallow script from Oscar winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants), and Jesse Armstrong and manages to give it a little bit of dramatic credibility.
I’m not that familiar with her work in TV’s Seinfeld nor in Veep so I can’t speak to her work there but the movies she’s done have been not only so-so but she hasn’t been that good either.
This is an exceptional exception.
At first Billie mentally denies that Pete would do such a thing but as the reality sinks in her anger grows. Louis-Dreyfus’ slow boil is brilliant.
“Downhill” is based on Force Majeure, a film done by Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund in 2014. It’s a pretty intense movie and though it’s billed as a comedy/drama as well, it’s not all that funny either. In my book, Force Majeure is a drama and a good one.
Downhill is not.
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Stars: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Zoe Chao, Zach Woods, Julian Grey, Ammon Jacob Ford, Giulio Berruti
A different lead actor and this is a better movie. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is really good and works her butt off in a losing cause. This one can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a drama and as a result it is neither and — worse — it’s not very good. Give it a 1 on the Friday Flicks with Gary o to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.