Downhill (2020)

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Food: “And then he came back to the table, and ordered soup.” Stuck at home, and trying to span out my limited produce and ingredients, I also have stocked up on canned soup. This week my recommendation is Progresso Creamy Clam Chowder because it is flavorful, filling and obviously very easy to make.

Film: “Downhill” (2020) is a remake of a Swedish dark comedy (Force Majeure (2014) by Ruben Östlund) which intelligently explores masculinity and marital expectations under unexpected circumstances. With this version, some of the humor and emotion is better translated for English speaking viewers, but it, otherwise, adds nothing, and lacks tremendously compared to the original.

The story trails a family as they take a vacation skiing through the French Alps, when one day, while at lunch, a “controlled avalanche” seems to be losing control as it flies directly at the outdoor patio where the family is seated. The patriarch of the family, Pete (Will Ferrell), grabs his phone and flees in panic, leaving his wife, Billie (Julia Louis Dreyfis), to protect their two young sons and brave the blizzard. When the seeming catastrophe passes, and Billie realizes they are okay, they sit quietly in a state of shock, as Pete saunters back casually, and then proceeds to order soup.

“Downhill” explores how the incident unearths a  unspoken resentments that had been buried within their marriage, and disrupts the previous dynamic of their family unit. Billie’s frustration builds magnanimously, and this is played exceptionally well by Dreyfus – catapulting her emotions from restrained and polite to explosive in a fell swoop. Meanwhile, Pete downplays the trauma and denies his behavior.

The film is a take-for-take replica of its’ source material, and lacked the imagination to make it something new. Co-written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash & Succession’s Jesse Armstrong and starring two experienced comedic performers, giving rise to the American take should have inspired some new material, but instead, it just felt stagnant. Dreyfus especially thrives in cringe comedy, like that of her long time friend and Seinfeld creator, Larry David. “Downhill” was marketed in that same vein, amusing itself in the most pathetic and uncomfortable moments in life. There were a few of those shticks, but those moments were too few and far between, and not bold enough.

With a predecessor like Ostlund’s sharp and relentless satire that comments on middle-class complacency, masculine insecurity and thrives in creating bizarre and miserable and somehow hilarious comedy, “Downhill” was already biting off more than it could chew. And, unfortunately for them, it is impossible to reflect on a movie that is a direct remake without pinning one against the other. When starting with “Force Majeure” it was only “Downhill” from there. (Had to!)

However, “Downhill” gives American audiences at least a taste of the brilliance of Ostlund’s story, and will entertain those who may have not seen it. Will Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfus get to embrace somber comedy and display their acting chops in quieter moments, and the audience gets to laugh at the expense of these characters.

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