Sundance 2020: Downhill

Alex MacQueen, Miranda Otto, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell in the film DOWNHILL. Photo by Jaap Buitendijk. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved.

The recently premiered Downhill re-imagines Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s award-winning Force Majeure as an English-language comedy.

Imagine going on a vacation and eating your lunch when an avalanche hits.  What would it do to the family dynamics?  For one American family on vacation, the dynamics get tested.  Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billie Stanton (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) have taken their two boys with them for a week in the Alps.  What looks like a fun family vacation changes in a matter of moments when Pete runs away from the family when he should be protecting them.  Suffice it to say, his family is pissed off.  You can’t blame them for being angry.  Who wouldn’t be angry if an important figure in their life decided to pull that kind of stunt?!?

But once this happen, things start to flow into motion.  There is obviously comedy in the tender situation.  It may feel somewhat unexpected but it’s there.  Also, we’re not getting the usual type of Will Ferrell character on screen.  Ferrell still plays for humor but it’s nothing like Anchorman.  It’s fascinating to watch the Saturday Night Live alumni face off against one of the greatest comic performers on television.  The two come from different styles of improv (Chicago vs. The Groundlings) but they manage to pull it off.

I went into the world premiere of Downhill without having seen Force Majeure due to timing.  As such, I am unable to compare the differences in films.  While I’m the type who will always prefer original content to remakes, I also naturally gravitate towards comedies.  The film certainly works as a comedy.

Perhaps the weirdest thing about the film has nothing to do with the film itself.  It’s the first film from the Searchlight Pictures banner that doesn’t include FOX in the logo.  The classic fanfare is still there but it’s just weird when one looks at the logo.  In time, we’ll adjust to the new normal.

Downhill does manage to lose some points for not being an original film.  This isn’t to say that the humor isn’t there because it most definitely is.  Have you seen the cast in this film?!?  Jim Rash and Nat Faxon are a brilliant pair of writer-directors.  Not to mention actors in their own right.  While Downhill features a superb cast of performers, it falls just short of being on the same level as The Way, Way Back.

DIRECTORS:  Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
SCREENWRITERS:  Jesse Armstrong and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
CAST:  Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Zach Woods, Zoë Chao, Miranda Otto, and Kristofer Hivju

Downhill held its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program.  Searchlight Pictures opens Downhill in theaters on February 14, 2020. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.