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Review: ‘Downhill’ doesn’t get a high score from the judges (Includes first-hand account)

Even seemingly strong relationships can be rattled by a significant event, while already shaky ones can be knocked out by it. If both parties are interested, they can try to recover and recapture the feelings that brought them together to start… and there’s also the children to think about, in some cases. But some things can’t be forgiven and others can, but with great difficulty. Every couple has their limits and sometimes you don’t find them until they’re challenged. In Downhill, a family trip is thrown off course when their bonds are tested and one member fails the exam.

Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Pete (Will Ferrell) and their two sons are on a family ski trip in the Austrian Alps. Opting to stay at the “Ibiza of the Alps” rather than the family resort a short distance away, there’s not much else to do but eat, ski and sleep. The trip is intended to help them reconnect after a recent loss and it seems to be working. However, while catching a bite between hitting the slopes, they find themselves in the path of an avalanche. When Pete’s first instinct is not to protect his family, a crack turns to a large crevasse that cannot be easily repaired.

Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell did a humorous skit at the Oscars, serving as a small plug for this film. This is the first time the comedic actors have worked together, though they did have good chemistry on stage and screen. Unfortunately, even though there is a dark thread of humour woven throughout the picture, it’s not exactly a comedy. The film is actually a remake of a Swedish film titled, Force Majeure. The crux of the story is the same, but the consequences are far more severe and portrayed with exceptional poignancy in the original. Conversely, this version features stereotypical American tourists who have to make their problem everyone else’s problem.

While the relationship issues created/revealed by the incident are quite serious, the lighter moments are injected via their inappropriate behaviour. For example, Billie, a lawyer, threatens to sue the resort; they’re not open to lifestyles different than their own; and getting fall down drunk before dinner with the family isn’t even discussed. That’s not to say the movie isn’t funny because Louis-Dreyfuss and Ferrell are terrific actors, supported by Zach Woods, Zoe Chao and Miranda Otto, who all know how to deliver a line — the impromptu gathering in their hotel room is probably the best example of their collective timing. Unfortunately, the stark contrast between the comedic and dramatic scenes almost makes it feel like two movies were stitched together.

The result is a movie that’s inferior to its predecessor and not as entertaining as one would expect based on the cast.

Directors: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell and Miranda Otto

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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