One-percenters flick 'Downhill' not a fun day on the slopes

BY NEIL MORRIS, CN+R Film Critic
Posted 2/12/20

A film that lives up to its title, “Downhill” is a chillier version of “Marriage Story” — if its participants were even more annoying and irredeemable. Set and filmed on the slopes of Alps, it’s the rough equivalent of being stuck in a ski lodge with a gaggle of unlikeable one-percenters.

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One-percenters flick 'Downhill' not a fun day on the slopes

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Will Ferrell, left, and Julia Louis Dreyfuss play a bickering married couple in "Downhill," a remake of the French-Swedish film "Force Majeure."
Will Ferrell, left, and Julia Louis Dreyfuss play a bickering married couple in "Downhill," a remake of the French-Swedish film "Force Majeure."
Posted

A film that lives up to its title, “Downhill” is a chillier version of “Marriage Story” — if its participants were even more annoying and irredeemable. Set and filmed in the Alps, it’s the rough equivalent of being stuck in a ski lodge with a gaggle of unlikeable one-percenters.

In this remake of the 2014 European dramedy “Force Majeure,” a family of four arrives for an Austrian holiday with clear passive aggressive fissures already formed. Pete Staunton (Will Ferrell), still mourning the death of his father eight months ago, pushes an adventurous, adult-oriented vacation onto his family in lieu of the nearby kid-friendly resort. He’s preoccupied with tackling the black slopes and texting his buddy who is also touring his way through Europe.

Pete’s wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) senses her husband’s detachment, and she snipes and sabotages his every suggestion, whether it’s a group dinner or helio skiing. Pete is self-absorbed and Billie is hyperbolic, and those character traits are magnified when a flash, controlled avalanche envelopes the Stauntons, their teenage sons, and other resort goers dining on a patio. The danger passes, but not before Pete reflexively scurries to safety, leaving the rest of his family to brave the passing peril.

The moment crystallizes Pete’s vanity and Billie’s antipathy. It also exposes Pete to the derision of his sons, an erosion Billie furthers in order to castigate Pete in front of their amorous acquaintances, Zach (Zach Woods) and Rosie (Zoë Chao). The rest of the frigid vacation comprises a bitter Billie harping on Pete’s callous act, a misstep Pete frustratingly refuses to acknowledge.

Writers-director Nat Faxon and Jim Rash flirt with some intriguing issues, from confronting mortality to the compromises couples make for the sake of their children. And when the screenplay affords a few flickers of levity, both Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus seize them like the seasoned comedians they are.

But most of “Downhill” is a slide into the overwrought, mundane angst of wealthy jetsetters, even the kids who mutate from duly traumatized to plain petulant. We don’t really care if this couple’s frostiness thaws or not. We just want to put this film on ice.

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