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