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Downhill (2020) - Movie Review

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Downhill

What would be your instinctive reaction when faced with a sudden disaster that threatens your family’s safety? We all certainly like to think that our he-man heroism apparatus would kick in, but we really don’t know until something like that happens.

"We are reminded that relationships are precious and that life can go downhill in an instant."


 

That’s the exact scenario encountered by the characters in Downhill, the new film starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a married couple (Pete and Billie) enjoying a ski vacation in the Austrian Alps accompanied by their two pre-teen sons.

While dining on an outdoor restaurant terrace, the family finds themselves suddenly covered in snow when a controlled avalanche rumbles down the hill, threatening to engulf the restaurant and all the diners. Though it ultimately proves harmless, they are all frightened by the event. But even worse, Billie is mortified by Pete’s instinctive reaction to the disaster. He grabbed his cell phone and fled, leaving his family members to fend for themselves.

Much of the remainder of the film deals with the fallout from Pete’s actions and how the family sees him as a husband and father after the event. In other words, we are posited with a second dinner party question that may be even more difficult to answer than the first one; what would you do after discovering that your spouse, when faced with a sudden life-threatening event, puts his own safety above that of yourself or your children? Yes, it’s all pretty heady stuff. But with Louis-Dreyfus and Farrell in the leading roles and plenty of biting humor in the script from Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants and The Way Way Back), it’s also quite funny.

Downhill is an American take on a film called Force Majeur by Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund. Though Downhill borrows much of the original’s subject matter, Faxon and Rash’s take riffs on those themes in distinctly American ways. At the heart of both films are tough questions that deal with masculinity, marriage, and learning to be honest with others and one’s self. In addition, unlike the original version, Downhill never overstays its welcome with a breezy 86-minute runtime.

There is an almost extreme sense of unflinching discomfort as Billie and Pete’s relationship begins its treacherous descent. We watch through parted fingers as Billie, at first shaken then confused, eventually becomes totally resentful of her own feelings.

It’s always a heartbreaking experience to watch a marriage unravel, but as in last year’s A Marriage Story, it is especially difficult when depicted by such remarkable actors working at the top of their game. And Louis-Dreyfus and Farrell both knock it out of the park with heartfelt turns that are pathetic yet, at the same time, beg for our sympathy. There’s a scene during which Pete and Billie’s traumatic event is dragged out in front of dinner guests Zach (Zach Woods, Silicon Valley) and Rosie (Zoe Chao, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?) with Billie begging the couple to confirm her feelings, while Pete can only wallow in the shame of his error while trying to make excuses. Louise-Dreyfus traverses Billie’s journey in a nuanced and relatable way. Her performance here is top-notch as she says so much without really saying very much at all.Downhill

In all reality, the film is built on a somewhat flimsy premise with an avalanche standing in for any catalyst that might cause someone to step back and examine their own relationship. But we get the point. Even the slightest shift in perspective can cause an avalanche of emotional effects. In addition, the Alpine setting is ripe for plenty of temptations in the form of sexy snow bunnies and ski hunks, not to mention the beautiful cinematography from Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables).

With so many questions asked and uncomfortable situations explored, we’re taken through the wringer of emotions as Naxon and Rash present their central questions: how well can two people really know one another; and what happens when one of them does something totally unexpected and out of character? While Pete and Billie are being forced to reevaluate everything they thought to be true, you just may be forced to ask some serious questions about your own relationship. We are reminded that relationships are precious and that life can go downhill in an instant.

3/5 stars

Downhill

Blu-ray

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Downhill

MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual material.
Runtime:
86 mins
Director
: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Writer:
Jesse Armstrong; Nat Faxon; Jim Rash
Cast:
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto
Genre
: Comedy | Drama
Tagline:
A different kind of disaster movie.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Every day is all we've got."
Theatrical Distributor:
Searchlight Pictures
Official Site: https://www.searchlightpictures.com/downhill/
Release Date:
February 14, 2020
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: Barely escaping an avalanche during a family ski vacation in the Alps, a married couple is thrown into disarray as they are forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other.

Downhill

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