By Chic DiCiccio
If Julia Louis-Dreyfus was not involved in “Downhill,” it would be an absolutely dreadful movie. Her timing, biting wit and charm are this movie’s saving grace, even when writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash send her into a women’s bathroom stall to, ahem, “relieve” herself. It’s a moment of slapstick, physical comedy that seems only in place to distract you from how cold and cruel most of this film truly is.
“Downhill” can’t decide what it wants to be. The awkward comedic elements aren’t funny enough to overlook how irritating it is, and the dramatic notes simply cannot be carried in any way, shape or form by Will Ferrell. There are two scenes in which Louis-Dreyfus absolutely steamrolls Ferrell, only furthering that his casting was an extremely poor choice.
Everything starts out fine for Billie and Pete (Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell), an obviously well-to-do married couple who are vacationing at an Austrian ski lodge with their two sons (who barely say a word in the entire film). It quickly becomes apparent that Pete is a buffoon and after 20 minutes, you begin to wonder why someone like Billie would want to be saddled with such a putz.
The couple’s underlying issues come to a head after the family finds themselves on a patio during a controlled avalanche. Snow comes barreling down a mountain, and just as it’s about to shower them, Pete grabs his mobile phone and runs off. Naturally, everyone is fine and just dusted with snow, but it brings out every single thing that Billie can’t stand about Pete, which should be just about everything.
At this point, “Downhill” still seems to be on track. But post-avalanche, it becomes a poor mix of drama and comedy that’s interrupted by moments that should make you think something like “why isn’t Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a better movie than this?”
Faxon and Rash call this movie a “reimagining” of the Swedish film, “Force Majeure,” but it’s not remotely close to the darkly brilliant humor of that film.
The two of them can’t seem to commit to any direction, other than a deliberate attempt at “irritain-ment.” They even try to deliver an ambiguous ending, which seems more like a failed attempt to be edgy even though every minute before it was anything but.
Ferrell is quite simply not up to this type of role. When he defiantly denies running from the avalanche, he sounds like an ignorant buffoon incapable of realizing his own insecurities. His attempts at admitting wrongdoing are even worse, which are full of self-pity as opposed to self-realization. It’s difficult to imagine how much of a bore that “Downhill” would be without Louis-Dreyfus. Given that she’s a producer on the movie, her commitment to the role makes sense and is apparent, but she’s let down by poor casting, writing and even some extremely generic direction. It’s been seven years since “Enough Said,” which was Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ last film role. Let’s hope she doesn’t wait another seven for the next. She deserves much better than something as poorly constructed as “Downhill.”