The choice to remake a foreign language film into an Americanized version is at the surface quite problematic. There are however a few good examples of past endeavors, like The Departed and The Ring. But the truth of the matter is there are a lot more that makes you wonder, why in the world did someone approve this?
Sadly, Downhill is another one to add to that list.
Director: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Release Date: February 14, 2019
Downhill is a remake of a Swedish film called Force Majeure and stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell. The two star as a married couple who travel to the Alps for a family skiing vacation with their two sons. What a very appropriate film to debut at Sundance right!?
The inciting incident of the film comes when the family, out at lunch hear a loud explosion that is followed by an avalanche hurling down the mountain and coming straight for the outdoor patio at which they are seated. As hysteria reigns and the restaurant guests begin to scream in panic Ferrell decides to book it and runs from the table in a panic leaving his wife and children behind.
This begins a set of events that resemble a “PG” lower-stakes version of Marriage Story. The two fight and disagree about everything while their poor kids are bystanders to the worst family vacation ever. Unfortunately, the disagreement is neither funny nor thought-provoking. What unfolds is just two people who are incredibly frustrating to be around and it becomes difficult to even root for their marriage.
The progression of the conflict and the eventual disappointing and rushed resolution come together very sloppily and honestly felt unearned. While watching a marriage dissolve on screen it is important for the audience to feel like there is something worth fighting for, but the two main characters don’t ever really seem to put up a fight. This is a clear problem of the script by not taking enough time to show that the main protagonists care, so naturally the audience is never going to care either.
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is by far the best part of the movie. In a rare movie appearance for the incredible TV-star, she is perfect in her role and makes a lot of strong choices that show her commitment and dedication to making this movie work. Ferrell is solid and plays a much more reserved, unfunny role than what we are used to seeing him. But it never really makes sense why he is the one playing the role. There are some entertaining guest appearances by Zach Woods, Miranda Otto, Zoe Chao, and Kristofer Hivju. Everyone gives it their best shot but at the end of the day, the script and plot just never validate its reason for existence.
Another thing that is incredibly disappointing, is the film isn’t funny. With a film starring two comedy legends, and a solid comedic supporting cast it is hard to imagine that even being possible. But instead the jokes rely on people talking with funny accents, awkward sexual moments, and random animal trivia.
In a movie that is dealing with a crumbling family it is understandable that humor is always going to take a backseat, but the tone of the film constantly swings between wanting to say something important and trying to be funny. What results is a tonal mess and a movie that has no real identity.
As I said at the beginning the choice to remake a film that was so critically acclaimed and adored is a very bold one. But from one perspective it comes off as small-minded, insulting, and pretentious that Americans can do it just as well or even better. When I left the theater I had one lasting thought. And it was just one word. Why?
Just a few months removed from Marriage Story, Downhill is an example of why originality should be celebrated and remakes should be shunned. The intentions, stakes, and purpose of this film are just lost in a movie that feels more like a chain store brand as opposed to something truly original and of high quality.
Marriage Story has achieved its acclaim and notoriety for not pulling any punches. Depending on who you ask you will get a different answer for who is in the right and who is in the wrong. The film challenges you and breaks you down emotionally. From the opening frame you understand how much they love each other, but you also know deep down there is no way things are going to work out between the two of them. In Downhill, we are never allowed any of these luxuries. Sure, it is alarming that a Father would abandon their wife and children to save himself. But to build an entire film on a 10 second event and the fact that he texts too much is expecting a little too much from the audience. We never get the chance to meet these people and see them in love. Instead the audience are just bystander, like their kids, watching a couple tear each other apart and just wanting it to be done already.
With two incredible stars and source material from something so adored it is a missed opportunity for sure, but I do hope this means we will be seeing a lot more Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the big screen.