“Barely escaping an avalanche during a family ski vacation in the Alps, a married couple is thrown into disarray as they are forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other.” –IMDB
As I sat through Downhill, I thought about how hilarious it must have seemed to the movie’s marketing team to have this come out on Valentine’s Day. They probably discussed how cruelly comical it would be for loving young couples to buy tickets without having read any reviews. These unknowing lovebirds would find themselves snuggled up in the theater waiting to watch a nice, V-Day romcom with two hilarious actors and would instead find themselves facing the vitriolic arguments usually reserved for years into a relationship. Let me clarify…
As with many movies that explore the obstacles of a long-term relationship, we can tell there are communication problems between Billie (Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Ferrell) from the get go. As the family embark’s on a ski vacation in a not-so-kid-friendly Alps resort, we find that Pete has recently lost his father and seems to be searching for something that makes him feel alive, but in doing so is entirely self-focused, while Billie works to make sure the emotional and physical needs of her family are met. Then, the family faces what appears to be a life-threatening avalanche while at lunch. While Billie stays and protects her children in what she thinks are their final moments, she looks up to find that Pete has not only run away, but grabbed his phone while doing so.
From there, Pandora’s box is opened and the remainder of the movie explores the intimate obstacles of marriage and parenting that the audience almost feels like a voyeur. It examines those moments when you are disgusted with your partner, when you feel like you’re yelling at a wall, when you feel that they are making you out to be crazy, when you become your worst self to prove your point. I have to say, the acting in these scenes was incredible and the writing was painfully accurate. Although the circumstances are different, I don’t think there is a long-term couple or a set of parents who have not had (almost verbatim) every one of the arguments in this movie.
One point I also really appreciated is when Billie is talking with a younger woman in a newer relationship. The woman states that if her boyfriend left her in a life-threatening situation, she would be done with him, no questions asked, “it’s black and white.” Without being patronizing, Billie simply makes a face that says so much. I had a conversation with a friend just a few days ago about how your perceptions of what you’re willing to tolerate in a relationship change with time. Of course, this does not mean accepting abuse of any kind. What it does mean is that the checklist you go into a relationship with tend to be forgotten and left behind as someone becomes more than just a (and I hate this word), lover/friend. When someone becomes your family, the co-parent of your children, things change. Hopefully a lot of work went into building that relationship, so a lot of work goes in to possibly breaking it apart.
Does the accuracy in this movie mean it was pleasant to watch? AWWW HELL NAH. It was painful and I can’t recommend it as an enjoyable experience for anyone that has ever been in a long-term relationship. It’s a well-done movie and a good conversation starter, but if you’re looking for an easy, romantic Friday night (MAYBE VALENTINE’S) movie, this ain’t the one.
Rating: 6 out of 10 Claire Bears
If you like this movie, you should also see: Force Majeure, The Way, Way Back
With: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Zoe Chao, Zach Woods
Directed By: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash