Opinion: Downhill looks at the complexity of relationships in a rather boring movie

The film allows time for the audience to consider how they view sexuality, relationships, and life's purpose.

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Zach Woods, left, and Will Ferrell in “Downhill.”

Emily Creery, Contributor


The ratings of the recently released film Downhill are going, well, downhill. Despite a well-intentioned, poorly executed American rendition of the Swedish classic Force Majeure, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell portray a thoughtful look at contemporary relationships.

In fact, the film’s inability to provide more than a superficial understanding of the complication of marriage, family, and sexual encounters is both its weakness and strength. It forces the audience to question their own experiences, desires, and adherence to a possibly outdated social “moral” code.

The greatest point of conflict is when the couple and their two sons decide to take to the Alps for a skiing vacation, only to endure an existential disaster as an avalanche forces the family together — all but Ferrell’s character, who grabs his phone and runs.

The greatest instances of reflective pondering for the audience about this event, and those that later ensue, actually derive from many of the side characters.

There’s the unapologetic hostess, Charlotte, who’s proudly married and happily engages in numerous sexual escapades with guests at the lodge. She never allows herself to be shamed by Billie, Louis-Dreyfus’ character, or society, proclaiming “I’m happy. Are you happy?”

Then there’s the dreamy ski instructor, Guglielmo, who asks “Who is Billie?”

We have all fallen for people whom we have no business having such strong emotions for.”

She is thrown off by this question and laughs at the idea of it. He then provides a beautiful and heartfelt response for himself, reminding her that she should never feel guilty to put herself first or to permit others to care about who she is beyond a wife or a mom.

Lastly, toward the end, Billie is consoled by the semi-stranger, Rosie, who says she is absolutely right in her anger at Ferrell because it’s “black and white,” meaning that the avalanche situation is a clear cut-and-run for a relationship. The protagonist is grateful for the support but questions the notion that relationships are ever that simple.

Because nothing ever is, right? The mere notion that something as intricate as human emotions and desires are purely right or wrong is absurd. One only needs to do a quick scan of the more abstract boundaries, or even societal messaging, that we hold true to appreciate this.

We have all fallen for people whom we have no business having such strong emotions for. We have all known things to be true until they’re not. And we have all questioned whether the life we live is the best one, with the best people.

Why? Well, because we’re human.

Perhaps Downhill is arguing that the only true black and white life question that exists is: “Are you happy?” But even then, the nuances behind the response are tenfold.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe our happiness shouldn’t be so convoluted. Maybe we deserve just that much in a world that’s otherwise every beautiful shade of gray.


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


 

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