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The trials of family life continue to prove screenwriters a multitude of options for depictions of drama and comedy. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are an award-winning writing team who have managed to find the humour in the darker recesses of the familial experience. The Descendants and The Way, Way Back are great examples and their latest venture is a remake of a Swedish comedy classic, Force Majeure.
On the picturesque mountains of the Austrian Alps, the Staunton family is looking forward to their European ski family adventure together. Pete (Will Ferrell) is still grieving the loss of his father and has become disconnected from his family over the past year. His wife, Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and their two sons have different goals for their time together, but they are hoping to enjoy time reconnecting as a family. Unfortunately, the resort that they booked themselves into is not as family-friendly as they had thought.
After some time on the slopes, they sit down at the chalet for some lunch at an outdoor cafe. Then they hear the rumblings of a ‘managed’ avalanche that looks like it may bury the family and the other guests enjoying the outdoor balcony area. As the snow approaches, Pete grabs his phone and runs to safety while Billie and the boys remain behind at the table, thinking that they would be killed. They quickly realise that the snow was not an immediate threat and everything gets back to normal at the resort. As Pete sheepishly comes back to the table to find his family deeply shaken by the whole thing, he tries to act as if everything is fine. The next few days lead to a series of conversations and situations that strain the weak ties that have been keeping the family together.
The overall experience of Downhill was like watching a stand-up comedian who cannot get his timing right and bombs monumentally. Even though it has been labelled a dark comedy, there should be something in the movie that is meant to be funny. The components are there in the talent, the direction and the storyline, but no-one seems able to hit their mark for encouraging any laughter. Miranda Otto was meant to be funny, but even this amazing actress turns in a cringe-worthy and unnerving performance to cap off the rest of the film. It is hard to understand how Faxon and Nash managed to exclude anything humorous from their adaptation of this film.
There is a scene where Pete and Billie finally confront one another about the incident over lunch. They argue in front of a young couple and the faces on this young pair really convey the feelings this film brings out in watching it. The fight between the Staunton’s and eventual treatment of one another becomes so uncomfortable to observe that the audience even begins to feel like they should look away or leave the room.
What seems to be the problem is that the wrong people were cast in the wrong roles. Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus should have been the comic relief and well-chosen dramatic actors should have played the warring couple. The central relationship was not meant to be funny, they were meant to be sympathetic with a desire for redemption. There were glimpses of comedy trying to break out of the snow, but each time it tried to jump out, an avalanche of dreariness and woe bury it again. A reality that makes this a dark film with nothing to laugh about or celebrate in the end.
Communication, communication, communication… If the key to good marketing is location, location, location, then one of the key elements to a good marriage is communication.
In this era of mobile phones and online relationships, one might think that we are in a golden age of communication. The truth is that these devices are driving a wedge in all human relationships, primarily marriages. You only need to go out on a date at a restaurant and look around to see more people looking at their phones than at their partner. Why even go out?
Yet, phones are amoral objects and the problem is one that goes back to the beginning of mankind’s existence. We have lost the art of conversation and practical communication. What is evident in Downhill is that the Staunton’s have forgotten how to talk to one another. The ability to laugh, fight, be honest or merely converse as a couple has passed them by and they operate in a dry, boring and depressing relationship.
A simple answer to this problem that plagues marriages around the world. Put away your device, look at the one you love, re-introduce yourself and then plan a date out without any distractions.
Talk, listen, laugh, pray and discover what you have been missing while you look at the silly little screen in your hand.
‘Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:11