Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billy (Julia Louis Dreyfus) play a couple, whisking away for a family vacation in the Alps, with their two normally chaotic, pre-teen sons. They seem to be having fun with a side of bickering that’s normal in any family, until you see more signs that something is off.
Pete and Billy’s relationship feels like they’re clocking in overtime at a job they may want to resign from and after an avalanche comes hurling their way, Billy is left bracing her boys for survival, while Pete is nowhere to be found. This is where the story takes off and we dive into why grief can change people, apathy can spread like a disease and an avalanche could be the deciding factor of whether you want to stay or pull a Pete and run away.
Downhill Movie. Credit: Likely Story
It’s fun to watch Julia perform alongside Charlotte (Miranda Otto), who is a sexually charged character that comes into play as the complete opposite of Billy. Charlotte makes Billy uncomfortable but also gives Billy the backup she never knew she needed throughout this film. Billy doesn’t get relief from her husband, but from a sexually charged woman, who “Can’t wait to catch new dick.” The catch dick lady, who Billy couldn’t wait to get away from, is the one who finally hears her and it’s a delightful relationship to see it play out on screen.
A turning point in this movie is when Zach (Zach Woods) comes over with his new girlfriend, Rosie (Zoe Chao) and Billy and Pete are faced with a couple, newly in the throws of love, displaying to them everything they aren’t. Julia gives an encore performance here, with a vulnerability that I hope to see her bring to the screen time and time again. This scene is cringe worthy and shows the juxtaposition of a young couple showing up, expecting drinks and laughs but leaving with the newfound example that sometimes love is angry, bitter and broken.
There’s also a scene in which Will does a lovely job displaying that drunk, lovey dovey side that comes out of all of us when we’ve had one too many. He does it with sincerity and doesn’t go for the laugh here. He shows us a man that’s struggling to love his family, while also trying to respect his grief. He shows us that apathy and grief can run wild and when not addressed can make you run away, when all you want to do is stay.
In the end, this film shows us a beautiful moment of figuring out how to save a relationship while rectifying a partner’s image for the sake of their sons. It’s a moving moment that reminds us, not all relationships can survive an avalanche, but we can all find ways to try.
My favorite quote from this movie is, “I just want you to want to survive an avalanche with us.” and while I’m still searching for an avalanche partner, that won’t stop me from saying that Downhill may be the Valentine’s Day movie every relationship needs, with Julia’s performance being the cherry on top.