‘Downhill’ Demonstrates the Limits of Constrained Remakes

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CREDIT: Jaap Buitendijk/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Miranda Otto, Zach Woods, Zoë Chao, Julian Grey, Ammon Jacob Ford

Directors: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Running Time: 86 Minutes

Rating: R for Bold Language That Pops Out on Vacation

Release Date: February 14, 2020

Sometimes a remake that otherwise seems pretty pointless can be useful for helping to clarify something that you may have missed in the original. That happened to me with the explosive conclusion of the Korean classic neo-noir Oldboy and Spike Lee’s 2013 remake, and now I have experienced it once again with Downhill, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s take on the 2014 Swedish cringe family comedy Force Majeure. There’s a climactic moment on a ski slope in Force Majeure that felt to me at the time meditative and ambiguous, but when I saw Downhill‘s take, the purpose of that incident was spelled out much more clearly. (Although reconciling these two as congruent requires a specific interpretation of Force Majeure.) There’s an argument to be made in favor of leaving the meaning as subtext, but I know I felt satisfied in the moment. As for the rest of this American version, let’s just say this material is very tricky to make entertaining, no matter what part of the world you’re in and no matter how many times it’s been told.

Force Majeure‘s inciting incident is an all-time doozy, and Downhill does it pretty much exactly the same. The Staunton family on vacation at a ski resort in the Alps when a supposedly controlled avalanche looks like it is about to turn deadly. In a moment of panic, Dad Pete (Will Ferrell) runs away from his wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and his two sons. Ultimately nobody is hurt, but the tension remains simmering for the entire vacation. This all plays out in set pieces that are quite often lifted directly from the original. Pete’s psyche breaks down as he cannot bring himself to admit his betrayal, while Billie insists on the version of the truth that she can so clearly see is the correct version, and friends and acquaintances look on horrified, profoundly flummoxed by the impossible task of lightening the mood.

It’s not necessarily a more Americanized version of the same thing, at least no more so than a version starring American actors must necessarily be. Instead, it’s a more mature version, as Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus are more than a decade older than their counterparts, Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli, were when Force Majeure came out. The original dealt with new-ish parents struggling with their evolving self-identities, while Downhill is about a middle-aged couple despairing, “It can’t be this disastrous after we’ve come so far, can it?!” That’s a theme it would have been wise to lean into more instead of relying so much on the template it had ready to go. But as it stands, it is still a fascinating dive into the panic that arises when we realize that we may never fully know who we and our loved ones really are.

Downhill is Recommended If You Like: Hard Questions

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Avalanches

‘Charlie’s Angels’ Doesn’t Do Much to Justify Its Existence in 2019, Except When It Gets Really Silly

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CREDIT: Chiabella James/Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo, Nat Faxon

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Deafening Explosions and a Lot of Flexible Legwork

Release Date: November 15, 2019

Globetrotting in 2019: who needs it? I, for one, cannot say I find it particularly necessary after watching the 2019 edition of Charlie’s Angels. As three gadget-toting, butt-kicking, espionage-deploying young women chase a McGuffin around multiple continents, what do they, or any person of any age for that matter, have to offer us that we haven’t been offered before? Maybe something new is theoretically out there somewhere, but what I see are mostly a bunch of competently (and frequently goofily) staged action scenes. I’ve never previously seen any Charlie’s Angels TV episode or movie in its entirety, but the main feeling this one gave me was a nagging sense of “been there, done that.” (Although, it is worth noting, there is nary a whiff of the “three little girls” paternalistic energy of the original.)

Despite that shortcoming, I suspect that Elizabeth Banks, who wrote and directed and also stars as Bosley (or rather, one of the Bosleys), is not necessarily too worried by the plot being overly paint-by-numbers. As long as our new batch of Angels (Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Sabinska) get to show off some personality, there can be a feature-length rasion d’être. For the most part, they just go where the story demands that they go, but occasionally there are flashes of extreme goofball energy. Naomi Scott wears a fantastic red dress because why not? K-Stew makes “beep boop” noises while cracking a safe just for the hell of it. And then during the credits there is an onslaught of cameos: a few make obvious sense for this movie, but most of them are breathtakingly, delightfully random. So at least there’s a little bit of fun to get these angels flying.

Charlie’s Angels is Recommended If You Like: Flirting with Noah Centineo, Original pop soundtracks

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Bosleys