Review: Vacation goes 'Downhill' in smart, painfully awkward comedy

Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus star in comedy based on 2014 Swedish film

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

An American family goes on the ski vacation from hell in "Downhill," a sharp, searing study in human behavior that's about as romantic a date night movie as "Saw."   

That's not a knock on it, but audiences should know what they're in for. "Downhill" is a comedy, but its laughs are of the cringing variety; you'll laugh just as much as you'll squirm, and afterward you may need a drink.   

Will Ferrell and  Julia Louis-Dreyfus in "Downhill."

Not so much a remake as it is an adaptation of the 2014 Swedish film "Force Majeure,"  "Downhill" takes a broader approach to the material than the more subtle original, although its bone structure remains essentially the same.

Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are a married couple on a ski vacation in the Swiss Alps with their two tweenage sons. When a controlled avalanche comes barreling down the mountain while they're eating lunch on an outdoor patio, Pete runs off, leaving the rest of his family on their own.

In the aftermath of the incident — nothing happens, other than the deck is covered with powder — Pete is forced to confront his own cowardice and answer for his actions and attempt to restore himself in the face of his wife and children. 

It's not an easy or comfortable path to travel down, but writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash play the situation like a "Seinfeld" episode, mixing the relatable with the painfully awkward.

As the couple at its center, Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus do a fine job of playing up the mundane minutiae of couple life against a major, character-defining moment. You may see yourself in them; you'll definitely be glad you're not them.




Rated R: for language and some sexual material

Running time: 86 minutes