Downhill’s attempt to recreate the magic of Force Majeure is a cinematic failure on a Hindenburg like level. When a film premieres at Sundance Film Festival and receives mixed reviews, that should have been our warning sign of danger approaching. Force Majeure is incredibly nuanced in its approach to showing how selfish actions can lead to an event more significant than say an avalanche. Ruben Östlund‘s brilliant film has its lighter moments, but they don’t detract from the narrative. Force Majeure is, by definition, a black comedy, but it’s really about the unraveling of the family dynamic triggered by selfish actions. Writers Nat Faxon and Jesse Armstrong demonstrate very little understanding of the film, which allegedly inspired Downhill. Their adaptation doesn’t nearly focus enough at the unraveling of Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Will Ferrell) relationship but does maintain focus on how pompous Pete is.
Dreyfus and Ferrell are far from a believable couple on screen. If anything, those two would have been better suited to playing a divorced couple right from the start. Dreyfus is better suited for projects with a stronger ensemble, and this was far from that. The film to place her character in the oddest of situations and they come off cringe-worthy Miranda Otto plays the owner of the ski lodge named Charlotte. Otto’s character is very free sexually and has an accent that would unnerve the calmest of human beings. Ferrell seems lost when he’s not either an idiot like “Frank the Tank” or “Ron Burgandy.” Pete needs to have some depth in this narrative for the film to click, and what we got was a flat obnoxious performance.
Downhill is a film inspired by excellent source material yet still has an identity crisis. Force Majeure is able to make light of Tomas thinking the younger women of the ski lodge were hitting on him. Director Nat Faxon wants us to do the same when Pete rams into the back of his son on the sled slope. Downhill should have been more about the choices Pete made, not just one single choice during an avalanche. The final product is an uninspired poor imitation of a charming film.