MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘Downhill’ equals a numb night at the movies

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell in Downhill / Searchlight Pictures

A word of warning, the latest film featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell isn’t a romantic comedy, or a slap-schtick spoof, or really even a black comedy.

In fact, the film reminded more of “Marriage Story: Part Deux.” Sorry, that’s an unfair comparison to one of the better films of last year. It’s doubtful “Downhill” will make anyone’s “best of list” at the end of the year.

“Downhill” doesn’t pack the dramatic impact of “Marriage Story,” but if you go to the theater expecting to laugh for an hour and a half, you’re going to come away sadly disappointed.

The film, directed by Nat Faxon from a screenplay by Faxon, Jim Rash and Jesse Armstrong, is a listless family drama about how a man’s grief over the death of his father has left him uncertain and disconnected from his wife and two sons.

Ferrell plays Pete, who is gamely going through the motions on a ski trip to the Alps with his wife Billie (Dreyfus) and sons Finn (Julian Grey) and Emerson (Ammon Jacob). An incident in which Pete bails on Billie and the two teen sons for a moment, leaves the entire family wondering just exactly where they stand with each other.

The movie that is based on the Swedish film “Force Majeure” came off flat to me, possibly because I was expecting a comedy.

Ferrell’s Pete is wishy-washy, compliant, and numb in the film, while Dreyfus’ controlling Billie runs hot and cold with her husband, even before he places his safety and security above his family’s in what the characters believe is a life-threatening situation.

The film is well shot with stark but beautiful scenery that emphasizes the frigidness of the Pete and Billie’s marriage.

It’s hard for me to judge the movie because I was expecting something totally different. That’s on me, not the filmmakers. However, the movie just comes off as bland, evoking little emotion one way or the other. I can see why Pete and Billie long for something more out of their marriage, because watching the characters made me want something more out of the movie.

“Downhill” certainly isn’t a movie I’d recommend for a date night, especially not on Valentine’s Day. It’s the type of movie that’s more likely to provoke a fight between a couple than anything resembling romance.

(R) 1 hr. 41 min.
Grade: C-

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • Sonic the Hedgehog(PG) 1 hr. 39 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle Hills
  • The Photograph(PG-13) 1 hr. 46 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills
  • Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island(PG-13) 1hr. 50 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale
  • Downhill(R) 1 hr. 41 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Rogers Towne, Bentonville Skylight

Classic Corner – Sleepless in Seattle

Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and Ross Malinger in Sleepless in Seattle / TriStar Pictures

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Valentine’s Day today, and thanks to the holiday falling on a Friday, I guess it’s Valentine’s Weekend.

Hopefully, you’ve already got plans for spending a little romantic time with your significant other, but if you are grasping at straws, here’s a simple idea: watch a romantic-comedy.

One of the better ones every made — director Nora Ephron’s “Sleepless in Seattle — is playing at 7 and 9:40 p.m. Friday at the Skylight Cinema in Bentonville.

If you aren’t feeling particularly romantic now, you might be after watching this classic starring Tom Hanks and and Meg Ryan.

Hanks, of course, is a bonafide national treasure of movie star, and he practically owned the 1990s, winning Oscars for “Philadelphia” in 1994 and “Forrest Gump” in 1995 and being nominated for another in “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998. He also was nominated for “Big” in 1989, “Castaway” in 2001, and for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood this year.

Likewise Ryan was the queen of romantic-comedies during the 1990s. She did not win or get nominated for an Oscar because the Academy is too uppity to recognize comedic performances most of the time, but she did win three Golden Globes for her performances in “When Harry Met Sally” in 1989, “Sleepless in Seattle” in 1993, and “You’ve Got Mail” in 1998. All three are excellent if you are up for having your own Valentine’s Weekend Film Festival.

“Sleepless in Seattle” is sweet and sentimental, yet clever and crafty. It’s a love story where’s there’s not a lot of interaction between the main characters until the final scenes, but it amazingly still works.

Hanks plays Sam Baldwin, a single father who is grieving for his wife late Maggie who died from cancer a year and half before the bulk of the story plays out. His son Jonah coaxes his dad to talk about Maggie on a coast-to-coast radio talk show. Thousands of women including Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Reed hear the story and are touched.

After watching the movie “An Affair to Remember,” Annie, who is engaged to a man named Walker (Bill Pullman), writes a letter to Sam suggesting he meet her at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. Annie doesn’t mail the letter, but, Annie’s editor Becky (Rosie O’Donnell) does, unbeknownst to Annie.

That should be enough of the plot to let you know if the film is your kind of movie or not.

Hanks and Ryan are great, but the movie shines as they interact with friends who offer them loads of advice like Rob Reiner, David Hyde Pierce, and the aforementioned O’Donnell.

The script by Ephron and writing partners Jeff Arch and David S. Ward have the audience rooting for the star-crossed lead characters in a film that hits all the right “will they or won’t they” notes.

The movie is not of the scale where it plays better on the big screen than it does at home on TV, but having the opportunity to see the film on the big screen again is hard to pass up.