By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
In 2014, the Swedish comedic drama Force Majeure earned a well-deserved critical acclaim. The film delivers a a subtle and and moderately paced bulid up of tension and awkwardness, as audiences witness marriage in crisis that gets catalyzed by a supposed near-death experience. The film can boast superb writing, direction and performances by its leads. So, in typical Hollywood fashion, American producers just had to capitalize on the critical successes on a wonderful international import.
So here I am reviewing the Americanized version of Force Majeure, a movie titled Downhill. To its defense, Downhill is actually an enjoyably funny comedy movie. Writer/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jesse Armstrong deliver a rather amusing movie, but one with an all too familiar approach. Now, I am not saying that Downhill shamelessly copies the style of Force Majeure, but the movie actually plays out more like an extended episode of Seinfeld. That in of itself is not necessarily a horrendous thing, but this American knock-off just doesn’t have the original feel that the movie’s inspiration has.
Will Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfus star as Pete and Billie Stanton, a married couple with children vacationing with a ski trip in Europe. The vacation gets off to a rather scary start, however. When the family experiences, but survives, a frightening avalanche, Pete and Billie’s marriage is derailed. This perceived near-death experience has both partners pondering the current state of their relationship and their own levels of happiness.
As I previously said, the real strength of this movie is in the comedy, and both Will Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfus excel in that respect. However, it seems like this movie never aspires to achieve the same level of complexity that Force Majeure successfully and competently delivers. Force Majeure is a much more subtle and nuianced film the beautifully blends comedy and drama. It successfully feels more true to life while Downhill comes across as staged and occasionally cartoonish.
The movie’s filmmakers are obviously going for something more overtly comedic and not quite as deep. And that’s all fine and entertaining, but definitely feels like a watered-down, candy coated version of the original movie.
There’s not too much more I can say. If one is looking for a fun and slightly goofy Seinfeldian comedy, go see Downhill. If looking for a more sophisticated examination of human relations that is still funny and amazing, see the original movie, Force Majeure. It is obviously a subtitled film, but as the American Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences just finally realized, international, foreign language films can be deserving of their top award.