DOWNHILL Review — The Slippery Slope of Family Relations

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Downhill review — Will Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfus make this American remake of a Swedish classic consummately watchable.

Downhill reviewEvery parent, or anybody who’s ever been responsible for a loved one, hopes that in the case of an emergency, they will instinctually rise to the occasion and go into full protection mode. When put to the ultimate test, we all hope to be heroes. But what happens when we’re not? What happens when, in the face of impending danger, we turn tail and run? How do we feel about ourselves after that? And how does it change the way our partners and our children perceive us?

These are the questions asked in the dry comedy Downhill, an Americanized version of the overwhelmingly popular and celebrated Force Majeure, from Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund. While Downhill co-directors and screenwriters Nat Faxon (The Descendants) and Jim Rash may not have quite the adroit hand on the material, stars Will Ferrell as the hapless dad and Julia Louis Dreyfus as the high strung mom make the film so real and cringe-worthy it becomes a surprisingly thoughtful and deliciously uncomfortable comedy.

The discomfort is what fortifies Downhill. These people are plain and often messy. There are no slick one liners, comebacks or pratfalls. No black and white characters—everyone makes mistakes, just as we all do. It’s honest and intimate that way.

We find our family of four doing their best to enjoy a European ski vacation, when a minor catastrophe occurs, and let’s just say Dad doesn’t exactly handle it like a knight in shining armor. As the family deals with the aftermath, the situation is complicated by the arrival of Dad’s work colleague, (a worshipful Zach Woods) and his free-spirited girlfriend (Zoe Chao). All are sublime, without having to resort to slapstick or slick one-liners.

I’m not going to find fault with Downhill just because it’s not the film that Force Majeure was. A vast majority of Americans never saw it, so comparisons will not help. Basically, what we have here is a poignant and amusing failure to communicate, with no guarantee of how it may work out in the end.  BTW, we also have a hilarious insider cameo that Game of Thrones viewers will relish — a fan favorite who also stars in the Swedish version makes a brief but memorable appearance.

At just under an hour and a half, it may not be as fleshed out as viewers would like, but it’s still worth seeing. Grown up comedies of this nature are far too few and far between.

Rated R

1 Hour 25 Minutes

If this Downhill review makes you want to schuss out to the cineplex and see it, get times and tickets at Fandango.com.

Downhill review — Will Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfus make this American remake of a Swedish classic consummately watchable.

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Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award winning journalist, author and film/TV critic. She can be heard regularly on Cumulus radio stations throughout the US, and on BBC Radio.

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