Hey everyone! Barbarella here to share my thoughts on an American remake of Swedish film FORCE MAJEURE (2014). Before I get into the nitty gritty about DOWNHILL, I have to say that I have very mixed feelings about remakes of great foreign films in general. On the one hand, they tend to be considerably less satisfying than the originals. Hollywood likes to change things, and more often than not, those changes detract something from the experience. That saddens me. On the other hand, so many people in this country will not go to films if they’re subtitled. Remaking them in English opens the story to a whole new audience that would never experience it otherwise, so that brings me joy. I wish I could force those skeptics to watch subtitled foreign films, but I can’t. I’m glad that they at least get a taste of the great cinema being made in non-English-speaking countries, even if they are unaware there’s a better version out there of what they are watching.
For those who have seen FORCE MAJEURE, DOWNHILL, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Farrell, is a far different beast. The story is essentially the same. A family on a ski vacation encounters an event that exposes the relationship’s weaknesses and each other’s shortcomings. Even some music and shots in DOWNHILL mirror the original film. Beyond that much diverges. In the former, Fredrik Wenzel provides the most stunning cinematography you may ever see in a comedy-drama. Almost every image offers so much for the eye to absorb. While I have no complaints about DOWNHILL’s cinematography, it’s just not memorable. It may seem weird that I bring it up because we don’t go see comedies for the visuals. I am just so impressed with FORCE MAJEURE’s cinematography that I can’t omit mentioning it here. FORCE MAJEURE also takes a more serious dive into the relationship’s issues. Its humor is subtle and more nuanced, and feels almost like it’s lurking just beneath the drama, popping its head out once in a while.
In contrast, DOWNHILL hurls its humor at you. It’s the in-your-face, at times overly familiar type of humor. Tonally, the film appears to struggle to balance its comedy with the dramatic moments of a relationship on the rocks. Even so, I find myself laughing heartily in a couple of scenes, almost entirely due to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She transmits so much emotion through her expressions, and some of her reactions to events and things said to her are hilarious. The filmmakers know what a gem she is as the camera lingers on her much longer than I would have expected in a couple of scenes. Yet doing so enhances the hilarity. In fact, her remarkable performance carries so much of this film. On the other hand, Will Farrell never feels quite at home in his role. At times, his character even seems to morph into past characters he’s played. I would have preferred his role and intensity to remain closer to Johannes Kuhnke’s Tomas in the original.
I find it interesting that this is a Valentine’s Day release, as it’s not exactly a romantic comedy for starry-eyed couples to share with their Valentine. Rather, it’s about a family on the verge of disaster, showcasing just how messy relationships can be. I appreciate this more cynical approach because it feels more honest.
I also appreciate that Kristofer Hivju has a cameo in this. Most people may probably recognize him from Game of Thrones as the Wildling, Tormund, but those who’ve seen FORCE MAJEURE will know that he also stars in it. I'm delighted to see him back at the ski resort, even if he is playing a different role.
Overall, I enjoy DOWNHILL primarily because practically everything Julia Louis-Dreyfus says and does in it makes me laugh. I also tend to enjoy dysfunctional relationship movies. It makes me feel more normal.