Dark comedies always make for a fun time out at the movies and directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s Downhill is a savagely funny tale of resentment and marriage gone awry because of one seemingly innocuous choice.
After believing they are about to be killed by an avalanche during a family ski vacation in the Alps, a married couple is thrown into disarray as they are forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other.
Best described as a ‘thinking man’s’ comedy, Downhill is a savage, satirical critique of modern marriage and the rifts that can form between partners in our modern world. Directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, bring new energy to their adaptation of Force Majeure, a Swedish film from director Ruben Östlund which was regarded as a festival darling. Here, Faxon and Rash, dig at the boiling tension and unresolved afflictions of married couple Billie and Pete Staunton, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, who after suffering a near-death experience in their family, finds that any kind of family unison is suddenly thrown out the window in disarray and all that is left is an uncertain and chaotic landscape that leads to some very interesting viewing for audiences. Faxon and Rash play up the chaos of this marriage gone astray and the result is incredibly interesting to watch.
Standing front and centre in Downhill is Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Billie Staunton, and she completely owns this movie. Louis-Dreyfus’s Billie is an over-worked control freak who after suffering through this freak occurrence with her husband Pete (Will Ferrell) begins to lose it with him, and it’s from here that things start to get interesting. What starts out as a misunderstanding soon turns into a fight and then becomes a game of silence and isolation as it appears that this couple may not have been as close as they ever thought they were. Louis-Dreyfus pushes in on Ferrell and her bossiness shines through in her performance as she goes at it with her husband.
Next to Louis-Dreyfus is Will Ferrell as her husband Pete and Ferrell mixes it up here with this character. While he once again channels his normal ‘beta male’, slightly loser-husband character, what’s fun with Pete is that he doesn’t contain his emotions and he becomes the more over-the-top of the two characters. Ferrell has a great flow for performance alongside Louis-Dreyfus and even though this is a film about two people falling apart from one another, you can easily tell that each character aids the other in bringing out a stronger performance. Downhill also allows for Ferrell to get brutally honest as a character, something I haven’t seen him do before as an actor, which is a terrific way for him to break away from his usual comedic routine and invest in some quality drama with this performance.
While both Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell are both terrific in Downhill, if this film does have a scene-stealer then it is most certainly Miranda Otto as the completely forward Charlotte. In her role as the concierge of their hotel, Charlotte is there to make sure things are perfectly comfortable for the Staunton’s and she quickly showcases how open and flirty she is with both Billie and Pete. Otto’s Charlotte is best described as filterless, and with her aggressive sexuality and ‘go-time’ personality, she’s certainly out for a party, and her actions don’t help Billie and Pete towards any kind of reconciliation thanks to all the temptations that she puts in their way.
If you’re looking for some laughs that will sneak up on you then Downhill makes for a perfect watch. Its comedy is unexpected in the best way and its ending will make you think and ponder on just exactly what the future holds for Billie and Pete.
Images: 20th Century Studios