Downhill (3 stars)

Downhill

Fitfully funny and visually stunning but ultimately inferior English-language remake of Force Majeure

Downhill is the new comedy-drama from Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Although they co-helmed 2013's familial comedy The Way Way Back with Toni Collette, they're probably better known for scooping Oscars for scripting The Descendants with its director Alexander Payne. Their snow-capped latest is a remake-of-sorts, inspired as it is by 2014's Force Majeure by Ruben Östlund, the Swedish filmmaker who went on to make the Palme d'Or winning The Square.

Aside from emulating the essential premise – a family on a skiing holiday are left to deal with an emotional fallout after an avalanche strikes – the two films feel wildly different. That Downhill stars Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus should tell you not to expect anything Scandinavian in style, though this is not Ferrell at his most outlandish, with his performance dialed right down.

By comparison to the original, this is more mainstream and accessible. A study in the cracks of the marriage between Ferrell's Pete and Louis-Dreyfus's Billie, these grow into a gaping wound when the aforementioned avalanche in the Austrian resort where they're staying almost turns deadly. Instinctively, Pete flees the restaurant balcony, rather than protecting his wife and two sons.

Co-written by Faxon and Rash with Britain's Jesse Armstrong (currently riding high with the HBO drama Succession), what follows is really a look at middle age malaise and marital strain. Some of it is uncomfortably broad, not least Miranda Otto's turn as a sex-mad holidaymaker who keeps bumping into the couple and offering Billie unwanted advice.

Nonetheless, it does look beautiful – the skiing sequences effectively immersing you in this world of luxury holidaymaking – and Faxon and Rash nail the Americans abroad theme. But a smattering of sharp lines aside, Downhill doesn't exactly ignite or inspire. Compared to the original's cool confidence, this feels stuck on the nursery slopes.

General release from Fri 28 Feb.

Downhill

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 30min
  • Directed by: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
  • Cast: Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
  • UK release: 28 February 2020

Pete (Ferrell) and Billie (Louis-Dreyfus) are a couple whose marriage is tested when, on holiday in Austria, he flees from what he thinks is a deadly avalanche rather than protect his family. Inspired by Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure, it’s more mainstream and accessible but also broader, less sharp and less confident.

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