Film Review - Downhill

This image released by Fox Searchlight shows Julia Louis-Dreyfus, left, and Will Ferrell in a scene from “Downhill,” a remake of the Swedish film “Force Majeure.”

Gotta admit I’m fond of a subgenre of romantic comedies that I like to call “The Battle of the Sexes.” You know, those ‘30s and ‘40s black-and-white comedies about a husband and wife being at odds, but coming to the conclusion that they really love each other by the time the screen flashes THE END.

A prime example is, say, “Adams Rib” with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as husband-and-wife lawyers who oppose each other in the courtroom … and on the home front too. But we know they’re really made for each other.

Even “The Thin Man” can lay some claim to this classification with its witty repartee between William Powell and Myrna Loy as a retired detective and his society wife. Bickering, but underneath it all is true affection.

Which brings us to a new film aptly titled “Downhill.” Although describing itself as a black comedy, it can be shoehorned into this Battle of the Sexes subgenre. In it, a married couple is forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other after surviving an avalanche on a skiing vacation.

The comedy elements could have been sharper. After all, this is the first pairing of two comedic geniuses, Will Ferrell and Julia-Louis Dreyfus — him playing a “checked-out husband” and her a “worn-down wife.”

Unfortunately, his performance seems checked-out and hers seems a bit worn-down.

Pete (Ferrell) comes off as an immature coward with few of the boyish self-redeeming characteristics we’ve come to associate with his film persona. And Billie (Dreyfus) is mainly disgusted by his shortcomings, offering little to elevate her own character’s wit.

Perhaps the seemingly brilliant casting of Ferrell and Dreyfus created false expectations on my part. I was looking for a comedy that’s less dark.

Here, we have a battle of the sexes without the coming together of mutual love in the end. Even in old comedies like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (the Alfred Hitchcock comedy, not the spy film) the husband comes to realize he doesn’t want to be free, that he loves his wife and values his marriage.

Of course, every movie doesn’t have to be ha-ha hee-hee funny.

“Downhill” is certainly not an assault on wedded bliss like “Kramer vs. Kramer” or “Marriage Story.” Neither is it the made-for-each-other denouement of “The Awful Truth” or “Woman of the Year.”

This film is actually a remake of a 2014 Swedish comedy called “Force Majeure.” Similar plot; better execution.

Rotten Tomatoes sums up “Downhill” as “fittingly named for a remake whose charms are dwarfed by its superior source material.” It adds that the film is “frequently — and frustratingly — less than the sum of its talented parts.”

“Force Majeure” has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes; “Downhill” ranks a dismal 41%. I guess that makes it half as funny.

Shirrel Rhoades is a film critic and former media executive. He previously served as executive vice president of Marvel Entertainment and has produced several movies and documentaries. He was also a senior faculty member of New York University’s Center for Publishing. He lives in Key West, Florida, and Lake Lure, North Carolina. Contact him at srhoades@aol.com.

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