Would you risk life
and limb to assist others in the face of oncoming calamity? Or perhaps you pray
to a higher being while seizing the opportunity to hold on to your loved ones
for one last time?
Or…do you run away
and save yourself?
In this short,
momentary trinket of time, how do you determine what to do? Is there a right
and wrong decision when it comes to life and death? And should you survive,
could you live with yourself having made the wrong decision?
Writer-director’s (The Way, Way Back) Nat Faxon and Jim
Rash explore this complex conundrum in the modestly told, yet unnecessarily
remade, adaptation of 2014s Swedish relationship-comedy Force Majeure, Downhill.
that surviving a “deadly” event would cause some form of life evaluation. In
the case of the Staunton family, it is not the type of reassessment you think.
While on a ski trip
in Austria, father Peter Staunton (Will Ferrell) becomes ostracised by his
family – including wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and their sons Finn
(Julian Grey) and Emerson (Ammon Jacob) – following his decision to run away,
effectively abandoning his family who huddle together in what they believe to
be their final moments, as a giant avalanche comes hurtling towards them.
actions ponder deep contemplation from his family, who survive what turns out
to be a precautionary safety measure managed by the ski-lodge. The affable chap
with a penchant for excitement, now looked at by his family with scornful
Loss, death and
forgiveness play as major themes in Downhill,
with both Pete and Billie
confronting themes head-on – though with differing attitudes. The manner
whereby Downhill explores the couples
complexity is both subtle, yet hard-hitting. The filmmakers responsible capture
this mood of despondency through bleak visuals, going from picturesque alpine
landscapes to muted bedroom views, and an offbeat choral score that hums
throughout the film.
While Faxon and Rash
are observant with their direction, it remains challenging to shower them with
praise given the derivative, almost rehashed, nature of the film. That said,
there still remains a level of authenticity found in Faxon and Rash’s script,
with the Academy Award winners (The
Descendants) crafting dialogue that creates thought-out human characters
with human emotions.
The subject of Billie
and Pete’s marital-strife intensifies upon closer inspection of their
deep-seated animosity towards one another. Pete’s desire for spontaneity, as
recited in his motto ‘every day is all that we have’, conflicts with Billies
need for order. Billie’s flagrant ‘her way or the highway’ disregard for Pete’s
desires verges on damaging, with the embodiment of her frustration resulting in
a stream of ugly barbs directed at Pete.
How the film
challenges gender roles, much like its predecessor, Force Majeure, begs considered thought and assessment from the
viewer. Pete, whose rejection of traditionally ‘masculine’ traits turns his
perception of himself upside down, is contrasted against Billie’s no-nonsense,
not to be disrespected, astuteness. The rise of this occurring post-avalanche,
with Pete ashamedly receding into an empty shell once their relationship starts
to feel like an obligation.
behaviours become all the more contrasted against the European setting, with
Faxon and Rash wasting no time to compare American modesty with the liberated
antics of European culture. Miranda Otto’s nonchalant and forthcoming (European
in all senses) front desk staff member delivers many of the film’s biggest
chuckles; opening the eyes of the Staunton’s to living out their desires.
yet again she is one of the best actors working today. The manner whereby she
inhibits characters, realizing them into complex individuals with their own
desires, is second to none, with Downhill
being yet another demonstration of her acting prowess.
casting of the jolly screw-up makes sense of paper, the on-screen performances,
unfortunately, become bogged under a heavy blanket of snow. Ferrell is giving
little more but a frowl, with the celebrated funnyman set aside to wallow in
self-doubt for ninety minutes.
To forgive and forget
is incredibly difficult, but to truly forgive a loved one following an act of
abandonment is next to impossible. Finding its bumpy stride late into the
movie, Downhill offers an
occasionally raw, though occasionally bland, relationship-comedy that will suit
anybody not wanting to watch a film with subtitles.
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus,
Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto
Writers: Jesse Armstrong, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, (based on the original screenplay Force Majeure by Ruben Östlund)
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