Downhill (2020)

Downhill features so many repellant characters, it’s difficult to pin down the one I hate the most:  Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) shrieks through her scenes like a hen-pecking shrew, devoid of any qualities any human might find appealing.  Pete (Will Ferrell), her gelded milquetoast of a husband, sucks the air out of every room he inhabits.  Even their two sons (Julian Grey and Ammon Jacob Ford) come across as a couple of primo cotton candyasses.  To say I wasn’t rooting for these miserable people doesn’t do it justice.  When an avalanche comes barreling for their ski resort, I actually found myself hoping the disaster would gather momentum and bring this movie to a thundering end.

That avalanche provides the crux of Downhill.  You see, these wimpy WASPs have ventured to the Austrian Alps to sort out a litany of emotional problems.  Pete, reeling from the recent death of his father, speaks with the maddening passivity of a boy who just dropped his last scoop of ice cream.  Billie hovers over her family like a tyrannical pageant mom, controlling every second, every molecule of their lives.  Nobody communicates anything.  Until the avalanche, that is.  

At the moment of disaster, Billie hugs her weak-sauce brats close and prays for dear life.  Meanwhile, Pete scoops up his smartphone and wanders off to take pics.  This act brings all their differences into sharp focus:  Did Pete absent-mindedly abandon his family when it was most in danger?  Or, does Billie allow her histrionics and brittle insecurity to make every situation worse?

That descriptive might make this movie sound enticing, like an Edward Albee play with a Judd Apatow twist.  Alas, nope.  Ironically, Downhill fights an uphill battle on several fronts:  Just about every attempt at black comedy thunks right to ground.  Big dramatic moments ring hollow because both leads are so aggressively unappealing.  Finally, none of the talented actors get to shine because the material so egregiously lets them down.

That might be Downhill‘s biggest crime:  Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus aren’t just gifted comic actors, they’re pop culture icons.  It’s frustrating to watch so much talent wither and die on the vine.  That also extends to Miranda Otto, whose horny concierge provides the movie with its only slight spark.

I haven’t seen Force Majuere, the Swedish film upon which this is based.  People swear it’s a superior product.  After 80 minutes of this dreck, which amounts to a soggy loaf of bread, that’s not saying much.  I do know this:  Without any relatable human beings to give it any meaning, Downhill gets buried in a hurry. 

86 min.  R. 

Author: Todd Wofford

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