Film Review | Downhill

Hollywood has given us memorable acting partnerships. Bogart and Bacall. Taylor and Burton. Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell are not one of them.

They are Billie and Pete, a couple holidaying with their sons Emerson (Ammon Jacob Ford) and Finn (Julian Grey) in the ski fields of Austria when a natural catastrophe, a force of nature, interrupts their plans for a fun-packed holiday.

Pete's decision to run from a potentially life-destroying avalanche rather than protecting his wife and sons, as Billie has done, challenges their relationship as a couple, their roles as parents and the unity of their family.

The emotional fallout from this event is characterised by Louise-Dreyfus and Ferrell as a series of eyebrow raising, squinty-eyed dour expressions.

Billie and Pete finally unload their frustrations and expose their vulnerabilities in front of Pete's dull work colleague Zach (Zach Woods) and his switched-on partner Rosie (Zoe Chao).

All their pent-up emotions are unleashed in an exchange that wanders into territory haemorrhaged by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Dreyfus and Ferrell are not in the same league as Taylor and Burton. But their confrontation comes as close as possible to a scene of emotional bloodletting.

And it's downhill from there.

Other characters at the resort are parodies: Charlotte (an overblown, outrageous Miranda Otto in Bette Midler mode), the freewheeling, effusive Austrian seductress with a silly accent; Guglielmo (Giulio Berruti), the hunky Italian ski instructor and the strident Austrian manager, Michel (Kristofer Hivju).

There is a sense that Billie and Pete's relationship is floundering and part of the reason they have come away on this family skiing holiday. But we're never privy to the details.

They are characterised as stereotypical Americans who are incapable of pronouncing an Italian name and threaten litigation when problems occur. Pete avoids confronting his actions. Billie seethes with anger.

The actions taken by the protagonists are a collection of disparate and disjointed events that don't work to resolve the hidden personal trauma. Everything they do following the life-threatening avalanche compounds their insecurities. Everyone is more traumatised than before.

In their attempts to overcome their emotional scarring caused by the avalanche, Pete, Billie, Finn and Emerson muddle along and eventually stumble upon a half-hearted emotional rescue.

The resolution coalesces out of nothing.

Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell convey a sense of National Lampoon's European Vacation crossed with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It's neither fish nor fowl, comedy nor drama.

This most complicated and traumatic situation and its aftermath is resolved easily and simply. You are left wondering what you would have really done, morally and emotionally, under similar circumstances.