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Review: Downhill

If you head into Downhill expecting a raucous, LOL comedy filled with humorous gaffes and charming banter between Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, you’re in for an uphill climb. Downhill is a slow, occasionally poignant, occasionally funny remake of the critically-acclaimed Swedish dark comedy Force Majeure. If you saw the 2014 Swedish film, you probably saw the better version.

The story revolves around a family ski trip to the picturesque Austrian Alps, where Pete and Billie Stanton (Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus) expect to ‘unplug’ and partake in some valuable bonding time – with each other, and with their two boys. But their idyllic intentions hit the skids when an avalanche sends a blinding cloud of snow across their outside, mountain-view lunch table. Billie instinctively protects the boys; Pete grabs his phone and bolts, only to return once the danger has passed to calmly order some soup. Thus sets the stage for an uncomfortable few days as Pete and Billie seek to re-evaluate their lives and their relationships.

Downhill is directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash – forces majeure behind a couple of my all-time favorite films, The Way Way Back (2013) and The Descendants (2011). Those films deftly balanced the drama and the comedy. Downhill tries, but it’s a slippery slope. As the tag line says, it’s “a different kind of disaster movie” – less about an avalanche, and more about the implosion of a marriage. The path to resolution, and the possibility of redemption, is more bunny hill than black diamond, with Louis-Dreyfus doing most of the emotional heavy lifting.

Downhill cruises along at a slow indie’s pace and then shifts into a “let’s wrap this thing up before the 90-minute mark” mode. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. The film is okay, but far from a must-see. As to whether we really needed another American remake of a well-received foreign film… the answer – yet again – is probably not.

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