There are certain movies that floor you. You can’t imagine getting up out of your seat as the final scene fades or cuts to black. The experiences feel ethereal, too good for this world. Downhill is not one of those movies.
The comedy from writer/directing duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, and starring a killer pair in Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, starts with a strong premise, likely because it’s adapted from an already successful foreign film, the Swedish Force Majeure. The Swedish film, written and directed by Ruben Östlund, opened to massive critical acclaim, ending up on many critics’ top 10 movies of 2014. This version will not have the same fate, instead dying in people’s mind within 48 hours, if not as soon as a 30 minutes after the film ends.
Though the movie retains much of the fault, part of the blame rests on us. We hear about a movie with Ferrell, Louis-Dreyfus, and written by the duo behind The Way, Way Back and The Descendents, and our eyes widen. Expectations have been raised to insurmountable levels, especially with the success and prominence of Force Majeure. When we go into a film like this with specific ideas of what it will look like, frustrations only grow when expectations are failed to be met.
Looking at Downhill outside of expectations, originals, and past works by the comedians, the film is…fine. It looks good and features fine, if not good, performances by the supporting cast. Ferrell and Louis Dreyfus give admirable performances, with the Veep actor providing us the most amount of acting acting. She deserves more dramatic roles, and more opportunities to show her ability to deftly balance tense moments of dark comedy. A cameo by Kristofer Hivju, father of Force Majeure, might be the second-best scene in the film, behind a brief but hilarious plotline of Dreyful taking a personal day.
The film now has become a box office bomb, disliked by critics and audiences, two group that rarely agree. Its biggest problem is its lack of one, as the film doesn’t make you feel anything either way. There’s no highs or lows, only middling existence. No laugh-out-loud jokes or biting drama to make you cry. A lack of relatability and a lack of originality make Downhill a overwhelmingly average and competent piece of filmmaking, from the minds of two men known for their sharp wit and character development.
It makes me wonder how this film would be perceived outside of expectation, though. If I went in cold, seeing these actors for the first time, with no prior knowledge of Force Majeure or this directorial duo, would the movie still feel so utterly disappointing? This isn’t anything new to criticism, to moviegoing, or even to media consumption, but it felt like a reminder to me to limit my expectations. Sometimes, you don’t need to consume all of the reviews, the ratings, and the scores before you see a film. You don’t need the research.
Without expectations, Downhill still would be a film existing somewhere between good and bad, a purgatory of monotony between hating a film and being transformed by one. But it certainly would have been a more enjoyable experience, and sometimes at the movies, that’s all we’re looking for.