DOWNHILL (2020)

February 13, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Overwhelming apprehension. That’s the feeling I had walking into the theatre for the Americanized re-make of one of my top 10 favorite movies from 2014 … FORCE MAJEURE. Sure, it’s common practice for U.S. filmmakers to farm international cinema for “new” projects, but when they mess with the really good ones, I can’t help but feel nervous to the point of dread. A sliver of hope existed since this new version was co-written (along with Jesse Armstrong, creator of “Succession”, and Oscar nominated for IN THE LOOP) and co-directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the creative forces behind THE WAY WAY BACK (2013).

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell star as married couple Billie and Pete. Along with their two teenage sons, they are on an Austrian ski trip meant to help Pete get through grieving his father’s death, and bring the family closer together. If you have seen the original or the trailer, you know what happens next. Pete’s reaction to a near catastrophic event creates a divide between him and the family … especially Billie, who is left shaken. This part is all quite similar to the original film, yet this version is different in so many ways.

Casting two brilliant comedic performers in the lead sends a strong signal that humor will play a role, and that the exceptional gravitas from filmmaker Ruben Ostlund’s FORCE MAJEURE will be softened somewhat. Both of those points hold true. However, surprisingly, this re-make manages to still generate some of the shaken-to-the-core emotions that come from having trust broken in such a startling manner. Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is especially strong here, and carries a much heavier load than Mr. Ferrell. As she is balancing her shock, frustration, and anger, while still attending to their equally shaken boys, Mr. Ferrell is relegated to spending much of the film wearing a wounded puppy look as he attempts to move on without addressing the issue.

Adding to the comedy elements are Zoe Chao (“The Comeback”) and Zach Woods (“The Office”) as Pete’s friends who get drawn into the fracas. Miranda Otto takes a break from her usually dramatic roles to play Charlotte, a wacky resort employee whose personality is a bit out of step with normalcy; although her zaniness succeeds in preventing the weight of the event from crushing Billie. Fans of the original will recognize Kristofer Hivju, who plays a resort security advisor this time. Another difference is that the kids (Julian Grey, Ammon Jacob Ford) play a bigger role in the family dynamics and fallout.

It’s clear that filmmakers Faxon and Rash set out to purposefully make a more mainstream, accessible movie than the Swedish version. The film remains effective at generating conversation about survival instinct and protecting one’s loved ones. It should be mentioned that this is not a typical Will Ferrell movie, and anyone expecting Frank the Tank, may only be pleased with one brief scene. Instead, this is about a man coming to grips with how his actions affected his family, and even his view of himself.

watch the trailer:


FORCE MAJEURE (2014, Sweden)

November 2, 2014

force majeure Greetings again from the darkness. No one has sung the words “I’m a MAN” better than the great Muddy Waters, but even he would have been unable to bounce back from the ramifications of the split-second reaction of Tomas when things go awry at a mountainside family lunch.

Writer/director Ruben Ostlund delivers an intriguing and thought-provoking look at gender roles and the definition and expectations of masculinity, especially within a family. What makes a real man? What is a hero? Is our predilection of survivalist or protector hard-wired into our DNA? And what happens to a relationship when the foundation of respect crumbles? Would you believe this film tackles these emotional issues, and does so in such a brilliant manner, that we often find ourselves chuckling (albeit with a tinge of guilt)?

A family vacation in the French Alps takes a turn when, while lunching on a veranda overlooking the ski slopes, a controlled avalanche goes wrong and the café is threatened. Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) grabs his phone and goes scurrying for protection, while his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) covers the kids and calls for his help. Both are instinctive reactions, and while one recalls George in a “Seinfeld” episode, the other is more in line with what we expect from a parent.

Although the avalanche turns out harmless and the family members are physically fine, the emotional shockwaves of Tomas’ actions reverberate through the family … and even through another couple (Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius). There is a exceptional dinner party scene with the two couples which brings the issue to a head, and it’s excruciatingly painful and funny to witness. This is terrific story telling and filmmaking and acting.

The film is Sweden’s submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar, and it must be considered a favorite so far. Though I’m not a huge fan of the final 10-15 minutes, that doesn’t take away from the questions as the characters try to come to grips with the situation. The filmmakers provide some really nice contrasts between dark humor, disappointment and broken trust.  I challenge you to find scenes of toothbrushing that generate more tension and relationship insight.

**NOTE: I wasn’t familiar with the actors who play Tomas and Ebba, but they reminded me very much of Stephen Dorff and Bridget Moynahan

watch the trailer: