Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Kristofer Hivju in a scene from “Downhill,” a remake of the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure.” (Twentieth Century Fox)

Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Kristofer Hivju in a scene from “Downhill,” a remake of the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure.” (Twentieth Century Fox)

Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell impress, but ‘Downhill’ falls flat

This completely unnecessary remake of an excellent Swedish film never finds the right tone.

Watching Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell presenting Oscars the other night was a charming little interlude between comedy veterans. Their styles are different, but they know how to deliver.

Their joint appearance was an informal promo for a movie they made, “Downhill,” which opens this weekend. In “Downhill,” their vibe together — talented, but mismatched — is part of the point.

This is a completely unnecessary remake of the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure.” The new version follows the initial outline of that wonderful and unsettling comedy-drama, but goes its own way toward the end.

Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell play a married couple, Billie and Pete, on a skiing vacation in the Austrian Alps with their two sons. They get along, mostly, until something goes wrong.

It happens at the ski lodge. During a controlled avalanche in the mountains, a great cloud of snow briefly engulfs an outdoor restaurant where the family is sitting.

Everybody’s fine. Except they’re not, because when the snow comes rolling in, Pete jumps up from the table, grabs his phone, and takes off running.

This panicky act hangs over the rest of the movie. It doesn’t help anything when Pete, during drinks with a couple of friends (Zach Woods, Zoe Chao), flat-out denies his cowardice when Billie brings it up.

“I can accept your version of the truth,” he tells her. “Why can’t you accept mine?” Truly a great line for 2020.

There aren’t enough lines like that in the film, alas. It feels as though directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (they co-wrote “The Descendants”) never settle on the right blend of black comedy and soul-searching drama.

There are good scenes of squirming awkwardness — of course the woebegone Ferrell does that as well as anyone — and a few of raw confession. On the latter point, “Downhill” is a good showcase for Louis-Dreyfus, whose body of work, notably in “Seinfeld” and “Veep,” has primarily been in the sitcom world.

As she proved in Nicole Holofcener’s delightful 2013 film “Enough Said,” Louis-Dreyfus has a strong, very human presence on the big screen. In “Downhill,” she finds some surprisingly emotional moments and pulls them off convincingly. She’s also not afraid to risk appearing unsympathetic if the scene calls for it.

There are decent comic turns by Miranda Otto, as Billie’s oversexed and self-appointed counselor, and Kristofer Hivju, a “Game of Thrones” regular who also appeared in “Force Majeure.”

If you saw “Force Majeure,” directed by Ruben Ostlund, you saw how much could be squeezed out of the situation: grim laughter and a razor-sharp look at a marriage in crisis, but also an eerie sense that the world itself was out of whack.

That film was also more than a half-hour longer than “Downhill.” Makes you wonder whether the remake was more ambitious at some point. It’s certainly something different from the usual run of bigscreen comedies, but what we see doesn’t go far enough.

“Downhill” (2 stars)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell play an uneasy married couple whose stability is tested during a ski vacation in Austria. The husband’s moment of panic during a scary incident casts a pall over the trip, in a dark comedy of awkwardness that never quite finds the right tone, despite the cast (Louis-Dreyfus is especially impressive). Based on the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure.”

Rating: R, for language, subject matter

Opening Friday: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Oak Tree, Seattle 10, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

Talk to us

More in Life

Darlene Love, Steven Van Zandt and Paul Shaffer  performed in concert at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park on Sept. 12, 2015.
Pandemic’s not stopping Christmas Queen Darlene Love

The singer best known for “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” will perform her annual holiday concert online this year.

roses
A gardener’s to-do list for winterizing the yard — Part 2

Try to accomplish most of these chores, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get them all done.

Caleb Sanders and Ashley Dougherty help decorate for the Trees of Christmas event at the Everett Bible Baptist Church. (Maria Lara)
Church keeps Christmas tradition alive with drive-thru event

Everett Bible Baptist Church hosts Trees of Christmas, with music, narration and special treats for the family.

Mexican sedum is an excellent groundcover plant, forming a dense carpet of glossy chartreuse leaves. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Sedum kimnachii aka Mexican sedum

An excellent groundcover plant, this variety forms a flat, dense carpet of glossy chartreuse leaves.

Make holidays brighter with energy saving tips and gifts

Snohomish County PUD shares five smart ways to find joy in the season that use less electricity.

John Spadam owner, at Spada Farmhouse Brewery in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Spada ready to show off new bar and restaurant in Snohomish

During the pandemic, the Spada family has been busy renovating an old building on First Street.

Precept Wine, the largest privately-owned wine company in Washington, recruited Seattle native Sarah Cabot to take over its pinot noir production in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 2014. (Precept Wine)
Six examples of award-winning pinot noir in the Northwest

The Willamette Valley of Oregon has a reputation for the red wine, but there are other success stories in the area.

To deposit a coin in the Bonzo bank, you had to push his tummy. His tongue would come out of his mouth to deposit the coin inside. Many similar banks were made picturing other comic characters. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Mechanical bank of the first famous Bonzo sells for $1,800

The dog decorating the front of the tin bank was a comic cartoon star from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Design elements of the M235i Gran Coupe include angled headlights, four-eyed halo daytime running lights, and BMW’s traditional kidney grille. (Manufacturer photo)
BMW’s compact 2 Series Gran Coupe is all new to the 2020 lineup

A turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, and 8-speed automatic transmission are standard on both versions.

Most Read