DOWNHILL: An All-Star Dramedey

Being “the nanna” of the Salty crew, I’m quite a fan of subtitled films. In fact, my preference for home viewing is to watch with subtitles on. So when I heard that DOWNHILL was based on a Swedish film from a few years back, my immediate thought was “oh not another American appropriation of a perfectly fine movie”. I haven’t seen the original yet, but i think my Sunday evening viewing is sorted for later on (a bargain for an online rental cost of $3.99!). I hear good things though, and after seeing what DOWNHILL has to offer, I’m really keen for some Swiss chocolate and a movie night on the couch.

DOWNHILL is in cinemas now. It’s rated M and runs for 86mins. It comes to you from the marvellous people at Searchlight Pictures.

Downhill – The Unhappy Couple

BY CLAIRE SMITH

SYNOPSIS:

During a vacation to Austria, a family bond is tested when a routine avalanche discharge event reveals cracks in the family dynamics.
Based on an Oscar nominated 2014 Swedish film called FORCE MAJEURE, Downhill explores questions on survival instinct, courage, loyalty and family.
Directed by Nat Faxon (THE WAY WAY BACK, BAD TEACHER) there’s an almost Wes Anderson vibe to this film. The cinematography is gorgeous – set amongst the hills and villas of the Austrian alps, amidst a yodelling soundtrack. There’s a foreboding intensity to the pair’s passive-aggressive struggles. It’s clear that below the surface, red hot emotional-magma is bubbling and boiling underfoot.

Downhill – We’d Like to Make a Complaint

THE SETUP:

Will Ferrell (ANCHORMAN, BLADES OF GLORY) plays Pete, a middle-aged, married dad of two who’s become disillusioned with fatherhood. Pete books the family in to a “last drinks, first chairlift” style ski-resort, despite the child-friendly resort being a mere 20mins away. Ferrell brings a forlorn, wearied energy to the role. A father of two IVF babies, Pete yearns for the days of drinking buddies and heli-skiing. He’s half-hearted in his attempts to bring family fun to the vacation. More pandering to his wife’s pleas than volunteering his time, it’s clear that Pete has places he’d rather be

Pete’s wife Billie is played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus (SEINFELD, VEEP). She’s a dedicated mother who’s noticed something is a little off with her husband’s booking for the family vacation. The lodge is basically in the Austrian version of Ibiza – not the first choice for a family of four. Billie is focused on the kids’ needs first and foremost – leaning more towards games of uno and fresh-popped popcorn with her sons than skiing “The Beast” (a double black run) as suggested by Pete.

Billie’s disbelief at her husband’s antics and weary acceptance of his preference for putting himself first are portrayed beautifully by Dreyfus. It’s clear she wants to give Pete what-for, but at the same time is fiercely protective of her children’s emotional wellbeing and wants to avoid a shouting match while in their presence. Pete uses this to his advantage and avoids the hard conversations entirely.

THE PAYOFF:

While lunching on a picturesque cafe verandah between ski-runs, a loud bang rings out. A large avalanche shortly commences cascading down a nearby mountain. Selfies with the rollicking snow soon turns to distressed screams as the realisation hits. They’re right in the firing line. Billie huddles in on the bench seat with her two sons. Not knowing whether they will live or die, she glances up to see Pete grab his phone and flee the scene in his ski-boots.
With their relationship already strained, this was an almighty straw to break the camel’s back.

Billie doesn’t want to broach the subject in front of the children, but Pete’s reaction unearths a larger issue. In a time of perceived crisis, Pete’s reaction was to save his phone but abandon his family. He made a mistake. She makes him pay for it.

Downhill – Poles Up!

THE PHILOSOPHY:

DOWNHILL is an interesting exploration of right and wrong, lies, feelings and survival instincts. Was Pete justified in clomping away from the avalanche to save himself? Should he have stayed to help his family? Was it an honest mistake? Is Billie justified in her anger? Should she be reading in to this? . Billie feels hurt, betrayed and abandoned. When she was already feeling like Pete didn’t want to be a part of the family life, his blatant abandonment of the family during a disaster sure brought the message home.

There’s some outstanding dynamics in DOWNHILL. Pete invites a pair of younger colleagues to dinner and drinks at the ski lodge. Their arrival brings Billie and Pete’s argument to a head and heralds some truly marvellous acting from the pair. The youngsters are on a similar trip, but without children, or schedules or family movie nights. It’s clear how much Pete yearns for this lifestyle. While trying to downplay his cowardice, Billie calls him out on how terrifying the experience was and how unacceptable it was to see this display from her husband.

From here Billie and Pete have some solo days of self-reflection to have a think about how to move forward from this (and whether they want to).
I would be interested to hear the discussions around the themes in this film from married couples of different ages. Hearing their lived experiences and perspectives on the issues brought to light would be a fascinating exercise.

Downhill – Happily Arguing Over Dinner

THE FILM:

DOWNHILL is a well-scripted dramedy with a simple premise. The scenery is breathtaking and makes you yearn for the colder months and aprés life. My one criticism was the very strange use of CGI skiers. They kind of glitch and skid down the mountain like a computer game. Surely it couldn’t have been that hard to fake Ferrell and Dreyfus’ heads onto stunt doubles? I mean, they did it in JURASSIC PARK pretty convincingly and that was in ’93! (remember the scene where Lex is dangling from the roof and the velociraptor snaps at her feet? Yep – that’s the actor’s face generated onto a stunt-doubles’ body. I guess they spared no expense (Editor’s Side Note: I may or may not be watching Jurassic Park in the background while I write this review…)

Downhill – Is That…An Avalanche?

THE FINAL SAY:

Strange CGI skiers aside, Downhill is a really enjoyable film. Despite being largely centred around a huge argument, the film is a lot of fun. There’s elements to both sides of the argument that you can both relate to and forgive. Virtual pillars of the comedic community, the chemistry between Dreyfus and Ferrell is marvellous. I really hope this isn’t the last we see of them together. It’s a good film to fill a rainy-afternoon, followed by a healthy discussion on human flaws and relationships. I recommend giving it a go.

KERNEL CLAIRE’S POP SCORE:

YOUR CRITIC:

Kernel Claire has been writing for Salty Popcorn since 2011 and has recently stepped in to the editor’s chair to help out with publishing the Kernel’s collective reviews. When not hand-modelling for Kernel Jason’s food-reviews, Claire can be found scootering through Sydney at a reasonable, defensive driving speed; or fussing far too much over her little black rescue cat Baxter.

Claire has worked in the Australian Cinema Industry for almost 20yrs and loves it the most when she can report “sometimes I get paid to watch movies”. She’ll pretty much attend any event that includes a lanyard.

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.