Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Zoe Chao
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Here we are again Will Ferrell. Has there been a mainstream comedian that’s fallen off as badly as Ferrell has? I don’t think he’s had a mainstream critical success in at least five years and Downhill isn’t doing him any favors. It isn’t the worst of his career, but as someone who doesn’t like mean-spirited and uncomfortable comedy, this isn’t the best movie for me. It’s almost like someone thought Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was a comedy and wanted to remake it for modern audiences. Uncomfortable, awkward, and generally something that few will enjoy, Downhill is saved from tragedy by Louis-Dreyfus and has very little merit outside of that.
The film follows Billie (Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete Staunton (Ferrell), two parents who go on a family ski vacation with their children. When they are involved in a scary yet harmless planned avalanche, Pete’s response draws the ire of his family as he abandons them when they think they’re about to die. This event sets up a sort of cold war between the two for the majority of the 86 minute runtime and we gradually see the true dynamics and nature of these two revealed and their relationship will never be the same. Imagine every uncomfortable drama you’ve ever watched in your life. Now imagine someone thinking they can turn one of those movies into a comedy. That’s exactly what Downhill does and it goes way past my comfort zone into something unrecognizable in comedy. If you want to see a married couple screaming at each other and weaponizing their children like it’s Kramer vs. Kramer, then this may be the type of movie you’re looking for. While this is better than Ferrell’s usual goofy and clumsy act, it’s not enough to revive his spiraling career. Louis-Dreyfus on the other hand is really the only character worth her weight in this movie. She’s the only one that has any sort of character development or depth which means the scenes where she’s by herself are the most powerful in the movie. Pete is a complete loser from start to finish so while this is different from Ferrell’s other more exaggerated characters, it doesn’t make it any more funny. I have a hard time believing there are husbands this incompetent out in the world, but maybe the exaggeration is supposed to be what makes this movie funny. I never really thought that comedy was supposed to make your skin crawl, and even as a black comedy I would expect something more edgy and controversial. The two leads have had respectable and award-winning careers, but this isn’t exactly something either of them will be putting in their trophy case anytime soon. I’m at a point with Ferrell where I don’t know if he can ever reach the level of fame and prosperity he had a decade ago, and maybe it’s time for him to hang it up and focus on other things. At least Louis-Dreyfus sticks to television where she shines, and it shows here where she’s the only real thing that works in this movie.
Overall, Downhill is a strange movie because there doesn’t seem to be a defined audience for it. It’s not a mainstream comedy and it’s not good enough to be an awards contender, so where does this movie really belong? From Sundance to our screens and beyond, Downhill is proof that not every critically-acclaimed foreign-language movie needs an American remake. Downhill is far from the worst movie of the year, but you have to think was this the best they could do with the amount of talent and time that was put into it. I’m sure everyone was expecting better.
Overall Score: 4.5/10