Advertised as a drama/comedy film, “Downhill” is a movie that prepares viewers for a delightful blend of intense and engaging relationships and relieving comedy.
However, that is not what this movie delivers. The movie demasks what we imagine as a stereotypical nuclear family and shows the struggles that are faced behind the facade. And in this way, this movie is incredibly impactful.
The film is set in the Alps as the Staunton family takes a much-needed vacation. While pausing for lunch, an artificial avalanche begins to rumble down the mountain toward the family, sending them and everyone in the vicinity into a state of panic.
Billie (the wife) and her two boys are encased on one side of the bench, unable to escape. On the other hand, Pete (the husband) is sitting on the opposite side of the table. At the site of the impending disaster, he grabs his phone and quickly runs for cover, leaving his wife and children behind to face the snow slide on their own.
This incident raises feelings of doubt for both Billie and Pete as to what their relationship means and how they feel about each other. The rest of the movie is spent watching the couple navigate these uncertainties.
From the opening scene, the Staunton family is portrayed as an average American family: vacationing in the Alps, having fun, with the occasional bickering here and there. Billie is protective of her children; Pete wants to make everyone happy; the boys simply desire to do what sounds most exciting to them. The light-hearted and bouncy music even supports this image.
However, after the incident with the avalanche, the viewers begin to see that what initially seemed as surface-level, inconsequential cracks in the family’s façade are actually divisions that penetrate far deeper.
This movie caught me off guard. Starring actors such as Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I anticipated a movie filled with many one-liners and frequent situational comedy. But the humor was kept to an extreme minimum with the focus being primarily on the couple’s marital struggles.
In this case, the advertising was misleading. But while the comedy was sparse, the movie did portray the struggles of marriage and family incredibly well.
It is tempting to paint a sugar-coated image of marital struggles. Yes, many stories and characters have conflict, but these struggles are often minimized, and the story almost always has a happily-ever-after ending.
However, “Downhill” depicts the difficulties of relationships and the downward trajectory of Billie and Pete’s marriage. Further, it is tempting to leave the viewers with resolution and with a sense of comfort. However, in this film, the viewers are left to draw their own conclusions: does the couple stay together? Do they not? What steps do they take moving forward?
In most movies, viewers are typically drawn to a certain character and quickly become set against another. However, throughout this film, I found myself both understanding where each spouse was coming from but also hating both of them for their blindness and their stubborn mindsets and attitudes.
The producers, again, depict a very realistic story: in many relationships, there will be wrong committed on both sides, and relationships are not as black and white as one often hopes for.
While I think “Downhill” was mislabeled as a comedy, it broke many common stereotypes in the film industry. The Staunton family, and specifically, Billie and Pete’s marriage, was shown in all its beauty and rawness. The film forces the viewers to honestly reflect on their own lives, making this a moving and impactful film.