Swimming against the tide is one thing, but I’ve not found many takers for my opinion of Force Majeure, critical darling and Golden Globe nominee; I hated it. A humourless, one-note, sneering portrait of an unsympathetic couple of a skiing holiday, Ruben Osland’s film struck me as a load of pretentious, self-satisfied twaddle with only cinematography to commend it.
So it’s fair to say that I wasn’t champing at the bit for an American remake, but here it comes, directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, and starring two comedy greats in Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Ferrell’s cinematic work is a mixed bag, for every Anchorman, there’s a Get Hard, but he’s shown signs of the dramatic chops required to make a restrained comedy drama like this work; Louis-Dreyfus is a US national treasure on the back of Seinfeld, but while her filmography is far more selective, her excellent performance in Enough Said demonstrated that she could create a complex and empathetic character on the big screen. The downside of casting these two beloved performers as unsympathetic twonks is something of a dissonance that led Downhill to slide off the piste at the box office, but it’s far from the catastrophe that many critics suggested.
Billie and Peter arrive in Austria with their two kids, and immediately get into a drama when an unexpected wave of snow engulfs the open-air seating area at their resort. Sitting on one side of the table, Billie hugs the kids until the dangers has passed, but Peter disgraces himself by grabbing his phone and stepping away; because he drops behind the camera position, we’re left to imagine how far this might be. This was something of a flaw in the original film, and isn’t resolved here; it’s not physically possible for Peter to protect his children, and the consequent judgemental ramifications feel schematic and contrived in both versions. Billie is disillusioned in her husband, humiliates him in front of their kids and his friends, and has an illicit tryst with a hunky ski-instructor. Meanwhile Peter nurses his damaged self-image with some abortive flirting, a drunken scuffle with an alpha male, and some self-pitying monologues. Neither of their plotlines could be described as feel-good, and the chipper finale doesn’t quite alleviate the sour, cynical feel of the original film.
But as an upgrade on American abroad comedy, Downhill offers some laughs that the original doesn’t, a National Lampoon’s Skiing Vacation with trash-talking sexed-up locals, toilet mishaps, and enough low-shots to offer some entertainment value. These antics punctuate the pretentions of Force Majeure, and render the story watchable; if anything, it’s an improvement that offers a little more humanity and self-deprecating soul than the self-regarding film it imitates.