The makers of the summer comedy The Way Way Back retool a 2014 Swedish import for U.S. consumption with Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the headlining spouses. A story which takes place at an adult Austrian ski resort ends up more shrill and bumpy than its antecedent.
Not to say Ferrell (also a big-time producer with Adam McKay on films like Booksmart and Hustlers and (Louis-Dreyfus) whose last film was a rather engaging rom-com with the late James Gandolfini (Enough Said) aren’t capable to excel in this kind of fare. She actually outshines him in what happens when a marriage is put to the test, benefitting from the screenplay co-written by director Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
On their holiday with their two sons Ferrell’s Pete and Louis-Dreyfus’ Billie have opposite reactions to a controlled (read: explosion-induced) avalanche when they are partaking in a scenic patio area once Pete finds refuge. While his wife and boys are shaken until the snow settles, family ties become undone in conflict rendered mainly in obvious terms. A stressful slippery slope has to be endured because of the sociological ramifications where self-expression can be cathartic, if embarrassing.
A memorable, though unbearable sequences includes Pete’s visiting colleague Zach (Zach Woods) and his with Rosie (Zoe Chao) where civil conversation about their overseas sojourn turns and emotional which may seem move than its nearly dozen minutes.
The troubling matters at hand when it comes to how approach them or eat humble pie are either too effortless or run-of-mill. Is there something here that really is of a fearsome, irreconcilable nature? Will Ferrell isn’t able to flex more rangy actorly skill, say, as in Everything Must Go or Stranger Than Fiction given the image is lacking. The high anxiety between Pete and Billie is often snowbound and leaves them less inviting than they should be (or what was intended)
So, the filmmakers have to resort to stuff like rapacious wit which lets the Veep and ‘SNL’ alum (like Ferrell) show off a bit especially when opposite a virile ski instructor (Giulio Berruti). Oh it’s hard to forget the hotel employee Charlotte (Aussie actress Miranda Otto remembered from The Lord of the Rings saga in tarty form). A character which appears to an extent to be jettisoned here from another cinematic endeavor, though to perhaps offer needed amusement.
Maybe if Downhill truly serves a purpose to search out of a more nuanced vivisection it would be to seek out Ruben Ostlund’s 2014 Force Majeure where a fine line stealing Kristofer Hivju as unwelcoming ski patrol supervisor Michel happens to be in the more original effort in the Zach part.