Movies, Comedy

Movies, Comedy

Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus Remade a Swedish Classic. Here’s How It Went Wrong.

Downhill is a disaster movie in more than one sense of the word.


Downhill is a disaster movie in more than one sense of the word.

Downhill promises a scenic getaway with people you love. It’s a disaster.

“Tragedy,” Mel Brooks said, “is if I cut my finger. Comedy is if I walk in an open sewer and die.” In other words, whether something is funny or painful can be a matter of perspective. In adapting Ruben Östlund’s Swedish black comedyForce Majeurefor an American audience, directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash haven’t just translated the dialogue but shifted the focus, and in doing so they’ve changed it from a movie that is painfully funny to one that’s just painful. The premise remains the same (as do some of the shots): a husband and wife take their children on a ski vacation, where a pleasant lunch with a view of the slopes is disrupted by what seems to be an avalanche barreling right toward them. When the powder clears, everyone is unharmed, but the husband is nowhere to be found, having abandoned his family in a moment of lizard-brain panic. He then spends the rest of the movie trying to make up for it, his marriage and the respect of his children hanging by a steadily fraying thread.

Force Majeurecenters on the husband, whose battered masculinity is inherently comic. ButDownhill, the remake, shifts to the wife, here called Billie and played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and from her point of view, the discomfort is more likely to catch in your throat. It’s clear even before the avalanche that her marriage to Pete (Will Ferrell) is not in great shape. When they arrive at the alpine resort, which seems to be oriented primarily toward adult singles and couples without children, she’s already in a foul mood, and his response is to act as if they’re already having a great time in the hopes that it’ll eventually catch on. He’s determined that their vacation can be, or can at least look like, as much fun as the one his co-worker Zach (Zach Woods) and his Instagram-fluent girlfriend, Rosie (Zoë Chao), seem to be enjoying, captioned with things like “#noagenda.” (Billie suggests they use “hashtag #nohashtags.”) And when the reality falls short, he retreats into his smartphone, hiding out in the bathroom so that Billie won’t catch him sneaking screen time.

The avalanche cracks open the rift in Billie and Pete’s marriage, especially since he can’t even bring himself to admit what happened. Since confronting her husband is like punching gelatin, Billie marches the family down to the resort’s public safety office to register a protest. But the burly Viking who takes their complaint (Kristofer Hivju, who played Zach Woods’ role in

Force Majeure) insists the terrifying experience was handled “perfectly,” and that Americans need to get over their instinct to threaten a lawsuit every time they bruise their shins. It’s one of the few times the movie brings the culture-clash element to the fore, and it ought to be a moment for the spouses to bond together, in nationalistic fervor if nothing else. But he backs down, leaving her alone yet again, her anger rising to fill the void of his silence.

The remake shifts the focus, and in doing so it transforms a movie that is painfully funny into one that’s just Louis-Dreyfus was an executive producer of

Read more: Slate

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