Released: 5th March
Seen: 8th March
In 2014, the Swedish comedy-drama film Force Majeure told the story of a marriage going through a rough patch caused when an almost avalanche makes the wife and children fear for their lives while the patriarch of the family does a runner. Naturally, this leads to a feeling of “you left us to die, you colossal asshole” to go throughout the remaining family members and they must learn to deal with the knowledge that one of them is a giant hunk of shit. This film got rapturous praise, including a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign film so naturally would go through the same thing a lot of beloved foreign films does and receive a substandard American remake that removes any charm or wit and just makes it into one of the most painful things I’ve ever had the misfortune of sitting through.
The family at the centre of this film is the Staunton’s with the mother named Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the father named Pete (Will Ferrell) and their two props/children Finn (Julian Grey) and Emerson (Ammon Jacob Ford). They all are allegedly related to each other and are on a holiday that no one except the father wants to be on, except even he seems like he’d rather be on his phone than spend time with his family. They ski, they have lunch, controlled avalanche happens and then begins the part of the film where Will Ferrell’s character gaslights his wife for the remaining hour of the film and I long to see him ski off the edge of a cliff and die so Julia Louis Dreyfus’ character can go off with her hot ski instructor. Sadly, that would make this movie watchable.
Before I really get into tearing apart this movie, I have two minor notes of praise to give it. For starters, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is pretty good in it. Turns out when you hire a legendary comic actress like Julia, you get a pretty great performance even when she has utter garbage to work with. It’s been a while since we’ve seen her do a film, she’s more of a TV person but I genuinely hope she does more big-screen work. The second bit of praise is to Miranda Otto who steals every scene she’s in, even though no one else was really using those scenes. She made a bold character choice and it’s something memorable to break apart the monotony and abuse that we’re forced to witness. Here endeth the positives, it’s all downhill from here.
Pete Staunton is a disgusting reprehensible piece of shit character who I wanted to see curb stomped for the entire runtime. He was vile, constantly gas lighting his wife by denying that he ran off when the pseudo-avalanche hit. He NEVER takes her side on anything, NEVER. He acts like somehow she’s the one at fault and ignores his kids wishes the entire time. He never learns, not even a little bit. They might try to imply at the end that he’s going to work on it but they mess that up about 15 seconds later. He’s not the kind of hilarious asshole character who we laugh at, he’s the kind of asshole you want to see undergo water boarding. I hated him within 5 minutes of him being on screen and every minute after that, my hate only grew to the point where I was hoping one of the slapstick routines would end up with him doing his best ‘Perry Wright from the last shot of Big Little Lies season 1” impression. I could literally just spend the next thousand words describing how I feel about this character but I want to move on so I’ll just link you to a list of synonyms for hate and you can work out what I would’ve said. Leave your best description of my level of hatred in the comments, the winner gets to say they won something.
Then there are the kids, who are there and exist purely so they can be dragged out during the big argument scene to side with the mother. That’s it, they have no character or names, they’re there to either be emotionally scarred by being forced to be part of an argument between their parents or they also get to enjoy being abused by their father who claims that he still loves them. I swear to god those kids have maybe 3 lines of dialogue and are there purely so there’s a reason for the mother to stay in the cabin instead of running off and jumping on every dick she can get a hold of. I know that might sound like a cheap joke, but they basically have Miranda Otto make that same joke in the film and I do not like this movie so I get to be annoyed at it and steal its own ‘jokes’ in order to make fun of it! The kids have no purpose, really no one does beyond the two expensive leads who they’re using to sell this piece of excrement.
The script is just painful, there are no jokes nor is the drama any good so it fails as a comedy/drama film. You have two gifted… OK, one gifted comedienne and a comic who was really funny 5-10 years ago and you gave them nothing to work with. They get to say the word “fuck” a lot because then the film wants to pretend that it’s adult… you know, like how those people getting into fistfights over toilet paper are technically adults. I can’t remember a single quotable line of dialogue or joke that was in some way memorable. I just remember the anger, everything turning red, fire, all the normal things. Again, you have two comic actors and Miranda Otto who all could deliver a line and maybe make something work and instead you decide to give them nothing of value.
Nothing of Value may as well have been the working title for this film. Downhill was nothing more than an excuse to trick Fox to pay for a trip to Austria and that is something I can respect, but I can’t respect anything else about this film. It’s a testament to how horrifically things can change in translation and how hard it is to make a film about a marriage breaking up that doesn’t just turn into an hour and a half exercise in witnessing an abusive relationship that will never change. If we visited these characters 5 years from now, one of them probably shot the other either in self-defense or in a jealous rage. It’s a horrible hateful film and it should be forgotten forever. Let the snow bury it forever until global warming takes us all.