Both Billie and Pete know he screwed up big time, and Billie is waiting for him to say something. Avoiding confrontation, Pete goes out of his way to take charge to show he’s still the “man” in the family. The issues comes to a head, when Pete invites his co-worker Zach (Zach Woods) and girlfriend, Rosie (Zoe Chao), over for dinner. Ripped out of a scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm, all the issues, emotions, and betrayal come vomiting forth.
I loved Downhill for precisely what it meant to be—a character-driven comedy working its way through a painful and real conflict. There are jokes and funny situations, but both Will Ferrell and particularly Julia Louis-Dreyfus are brilliant and grounded in their characters and performance. It takes excellent comedic talents like these to get the timing of the humor down right and then turn on a dime to produce a dramatic and believable performance soon after. Don’t get me wrong, there is a great deal of silliness in Downhill. Miranda Otto from LOTR: The Two Towers is almost unrecognizable as the sexually open and experimental resort manager.
“…to get the timing of the humor down right and then turn on a dime to produce a dramatic and believable performance…”
The heart of the film focuses on one’s personal investment in his/her family. Are you in or are you out? Or in Pete’s case, how much do you miss your single life of “freedom?” Like any good story, Pete is clearly in the wrong for everything, but you do see subtle cracks in Billie forming as she seeks some passive justice for Pete’s crime. She makes several bad decisions that just feel right.
From Oscar-winning writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (along with writer Jesse Armstrong), they’ve mastered the new-style of comedy for the 2000s. Gone are the jokes and gags of great films, like Airplane, and every groaner comedy from the 80s and 90s. Now is the new grounded comedies, where heart is needed to connect with its audiences and once you’re grabbed in, uses comedy to flip this grounded story on its head. Downhill does everything right. Also, there are laugh-out-loud moments, so yes, it’s not THAT grounded.
DOWNHILL screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.