Downhill Movie Review: An awkwardly funny disaster story

by Matthew Escosia
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Have you ever been caught in the middle of a couple’s fight where you can’t do anything but stand stiffly between them, wishing you were somewhere else? “Downhill” is a movie that places you exactly in that situation. The film stars Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a steep downhill ride of a marriage towards disaster. Here’s our High Five Review of the movie!


An awkward situation

“Downhill” is an American remake of the Swedish film “Force Majeure,” which tells the story of a marriage that is thrown into disarray after a fateful family outing. Pete (Will Ferrell), Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and their sons are on a ski trip when they see a nearby avalanche about to hit. As the avalanche approaches and threatens their lives, Pete grabs his phone and flees towards safety, leaving his family in harm’s way. It turns out to be a controlled avalanche that did not pose any danger, leaving Billie horrified by the fact that Pete only cared enough to save his phone but not his family. This leads to Billie’s increasing frustration at Pete, which in turn leads to escalating tension and arguments between the couple, fueling the remainder of the movie.

The film’s slow-paced storytelling and awkward moments of silence were smart touches that make the viewer feel like they’re in the same room as the characters, watching Billie and Pete’s relationship crumble before their very eyes. However, even if moments of dead air were employed to great comedic effect by the filmmakers and actors, the sheer amount of these moments made the film a bit draggy and repetitive. Most of these scenes felt like fillers which could have easily been omitted from the movie without much consequence to the story or plot.


The good kind of cringe

The confrontations that Billie and Pete have are palpably cringeworthy, as you watch the odd couple scream at each other and reveal deep-seated issues that make you squirm in your seat. The scenes where Pete adamantly denies his actions are enough to make one’s face scrunch up with secondhand embarrassment. However, it’s the good kind of cringe, as their lines, delivery and timing were all hilariously on point, making the audience react the way they intended – with uncomfortable laughter.

Having said that, the film could have done better with less awkwardness and more balance between humor and gravity. For example, the depth of Will Ferrell’s character could have been explored further. Pete was made to look pathetic throughout the film that when everything was resolved by the end, you couldn’t think of him as anything other than a cowardly joke.


Stellar supporting characters

As the awkward magic of the premise begins to wear off, Pete’s coworker Zach (Zach Woods) and his girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao) join the fray in time to bring levity to the story. The couple eventually find their way to the ski resort and act as audience surrogates who comment on Billie and Pete’s complicated situation. Woods and Chao are great additions to the cast as their “hashtag couple goals” gimmick is something the audience can easily relate to and poke fun of, especially with their over-the-top Instagram hashtags.

Charlotte (Miranda Otto) is another person that found herself in the middle of Billie and Pete’s conflict. An “overly friendly” foreigner, Charlotte was in charge of the family’s trip and spurred most of the humor in the film with her sexual frustration and forward demeanor. Her strong accent and bluntness made her stand out as an unforgettable character.

What was disappointing, however, was how the supporting characters were merely relegated to comic relief. There wasn’t much depth in their character and very little information could be gathered about them. The way they interacted with the main characters also felt forced at times and came with little meaning or emotion.


A praiseworthy performance

Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ portrayal of Billie deserves special recognition for being able to balance comedy and drama in a funny yet believable way. This is perfectly captured during the helicopter scene where her pent-up frustrations towards Pete’s inaction and denial finally breaks loose after her son loses a glove – she breaks down, screaming at her husband in a moment that is both painfully real and painfully funny. She holds on to the trauma that Billie had, tearfully recalling past events while her husband’s nonchalance and denial slowly fade away, replaced by realization and guilt. Her empathetic delivery ensures that the audience is by her side throughout the movie, sharing her frustrations about her husband.


An apt ending

As the family climbs up the snowy hills, an explosion reverberates throughout the mountains which makes their two sons clutch Billie in fear. This turns out to be another controlled avalanche. Pete is left in the wayside, racked with guilt as he realizes that his sons don’t trust him anymore. He then proceeds to say that he’s all skied out and will wait for his family at the foot of the hill. It’s here that Billie decides to patch things up with her husband.

Billie calls out Pete’s name in panic from the top of the hill, which Pete hears as he hurriedly climbs up the slope to look for Billie, only to find her safe, slumped in the snow. This is where they resolve their conflict as Billie and Pete work out their feelings. Billie finally asks Pete to “rescue” her by bringing her down the hill.

While this can be considered an appropriate ending for the film given that the couple resolved to stick together for the long run to fix their marriage, it also proved to be an underwhelming end to an overall underwhelming movie. While it seems that they will be able to mend what was broken, our view of Pete and his cowardice did not magically go away. The film cast his character in such an unflattering light that him admitting his mistakes was not heartwarming in the least; the ending could not salvage any good from him.


Final Thoughts

All in all, “Downhill” lacks many things including compelling characters and rewatch value, ending up as a trudge to watch all the way through. It’s easily forgettable and underwhelming, leaving you nothing to be excited about. Having said that, it has its fair share of hilarious moments and could make one smile, even uncomfortably so, and its talented cast of actors do what they can with the roles they were given.

With that, “Downhill” gets 2 waves out of 5. What did you think about the film? Share it with us in the comments below!

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