Bad Boys for Life
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I've been meaning to watch 2014's Force Majeure for some time but it was one of those movies that just fell behind and got trapped by the ever-increasing backlog of "to see" films. Then I discovered that there was to be an American remake by the Oscar-winning writing team behind The Descendants and I decided now would be a good time to go back to Force Majeure. But I purposely chose not to watch the Swedish original until after having watched the American remake, Downhill, to not prejudice myself. Both movies have value as cringe comedies prodding fragile masculinity, though the Swedish import runs more with the cascading consequences and the English remake plays more broadly with its big stars.
Both movies follow families on skiing vacations where the father (Johannes Kuhnke as Tomas, Will Ferrell as Pete) abandon their wives (Lisa Loven Kongdli as Ebba, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Billie) and children when an approaching avalanche looks to be imminently deadly. It proves to be harmless but the scare it created was very real, and the damage to this family is also very real. In their dire moment of need, as death looked increasingly possible, this family watched its patriarch run away to save himself (and not before grabbing his phone). The father denies running away, finding his own slippery slope of excuses to pretend and convince his family that everything is still the same.
Downhill takes the very specific tone of Swedish original by writer/director Ruben Ostlund (The Square) and plays it safer and more broadly. There's an added context of the ski lodge being a couple's resort with the idea of horny and available alternatives just a slope away for fun. The movie is practically throwing a more traditionally "manly" and virile romantic candidate at Billie and it's so obvious and immediate that it reminded me of the sexy yoga instructor from 2009's Couples Retreat, another movie that involved a holiday retreat with two camps, one more family-friendly and another more hedonistic. It feels too convenient and crass to immediately present our heroine with prime cheating options and have her question her own fidelity. In Force Majeure, one of the best and most awkward moments occurs when Tomas tries to portray himself as an equal victim to his own shortcomings as a man. He lists several faults, including infidelity, that don't phase his wife, which implies she is well aware of this man's flaws. It's such a pathetic moment of emotional manipulation that incredulous laughter is the only natural response, and the movie makes the viewer stay in that uncomfortable squirm. Tomas lays on the floor wailing like a child, which then triggers his children to come out and lay upon their weeping father and then admonish their mother to follow their supportive lead. It's a hilarious moment and borne from the organic developments tied to character relationships. In Downhill, by contrast, we get stuff like the sexy ski instructor and a really horny, handsy lodge lady (Miranda Otto, in thick accent).
That's not to say the remake doesn't find effective ways to make the most of its American infusion. There's a scene where Pete and Billie are complaining to the ski lodge staff because someone must account for their perceived injury. The moment doesn't go as they hoped and the security head (Game of Thrones' Kristofer Hivju) refuses to apologize or admit any wrong. He points out all the warnings that the American couple somehow missed, and this only causes Billie to grow in her important agitation. It's a moment that plays to the ugly American stereotype of self-absorption and the insistence to be heard. This scene would not have worked with the Force Majeure characters at all. Billie is a more interesting character and given more ambiguity and flaws than Ebba, who is often the perplexed voice of the audience. There are adaptation changes and new jokes that work for Downhill, but more often it doesn't explore the comic avenues open to it (hashtag jokes… really?). The best jokes are frequently holdovers.
Something I enjoyed exclusively about Force Majeure was how it widened its scope to include the contagious nature of questioning masculine assumptions. The supporting characters have more significance tan in Downhill. Tomas' friend, Mats (Game of Thrones' Kristofer Hivju), begins as an awkward lifeline trying to offer meager supportive explanations to his beleaguered friend's cowardice ("You ran away so that you could come back and dig everyone out, right?") and then he too is negatively affected. His much younger girlfriend begins to look at him differently and with suspicion, wondering if he too would disappoint when under a similar life-threatening scenario. She questions whether it's simply a generational divide and an older generation (him) just doesn't feel as brave and selfless. This eats away at Mats and wreaks havoc with his relationship. You too might consider how well you really know your loved ones and how you might respond as well. It's such a wonderful what-if scenario to apply to one's self. This contagious nature of doubt makes the story feel that much more interesting when one man's failings can spiral outward and ensnare others. This deepened the dark comedy and provided interesting and complimentary side characters. With Downhill, we don't really get any other characters on the same level of thought as our main couple, Pete and Billie.
The children actually play a bigger role in Downhill as the relationship between the sons and their father is on the brink. They see him decidedly different and Pete spends time trying to regain their favor and trust and, naturally, failing. With Force Majeure, the children are kept on the sidelines and they're more worried that mom and dad may be doomed to a divorce rather than being upset or disappointed with their father. Downhill clearly aligns the sons with their mother and has Billie call upon them to provide corroborating testimony to her account, in one deliciously awkward extended moment. It's one area where Downhill bests its source material but again that's because it also dramatically scales down the importance of supporting adults.
Ferrell (Holmes & Watson) and Louis-Dreyfus (Veep) are such an enjoyable comedy pairing and work together for Downhill's broader aims. The Swedish actors are far more subdued, understated, and dry, dissolving into playing mundane, regular folk. You're not going to get that with Ferrell especially. His big screen buffoon tendencies play well for Pete's blustery self-deluded narcissist, but he lacks the bite for the destructive self-pity that emboldened Kuhnke. Ferrell's performance is more restrained than you might assume but he still doesn't feel like the right fit for the character and where he needs to go. He never stops being Ferrell. Louis-Dreyfus is such a pro and is able to navigate the bleaker comedy with great precision. Her shaken monologue retelling the avalanche incident and pausing on "… to die, I guess" had me rolling.
Downhill is over 30 minutes shorter and yet it feels stretched thing, circling the same comic points, which can make the film feel frustratingly smaller in scope and ambition. The endings are different and come across a similar questioning message over never knowing how a person may respond in the middle of danger. Force Majeure concludes with a scenario that allows its wounded males to save some honor and the women to question their own responses, a paradigm shift of expectations. The triumphant recapturing of masculinity builds to its own satirical breaking point, ready to laugh at Tomas feeling like a ridiculous John Wane-style cowboy. In contrast, the American ending doesn't feel as rich or as earned as its predecessor.
Downhill is an accessible and funny remake that has some smart deviations from its source material to deliver its own version, and sometimes it feels like the filmmakers want to make a much more mainstream comedy. The tonal identity issues sap the comedy and dramatic momentum of the story, which can make the overall film frustrating and unsatisfying at times while you wait for it to settle. Then its 85 minutes are over and it's done. Force Majeure, on the other hand, is the most confident, strident, and awkward viewing, not to mention longer at two hours in length. It's actually too long and with a few segments that could be trimmed or removed entirely (drone flying, the first set of friends, getting lost in a snowy fog). There's even a running joke where the gag is simply that the ski lifts and moving sidewalks are just super slow. The movie takes its understated, dry comic sensibility even to its relaxed sense of pacing. Both movies are funny and emphasize different aspects of the premise of the consequences of cowardice. I likely would have enjoyed Downhill less had I seen Force Majeure first but it's still a decent American remake for something that was so calculating and exact in tone, a laugh-out-loud comedy that doesn't play like a comedy. Still, co-writers/director Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (The Way Way Back) have enough skill and polished instinct that even a less sophisticated, more obvious version of Force Majeure is still entertaining enough. It might lack some of the edge of the original but Downhill is an agreeable comedy of disagreeable decisions.
Force Majeure: B+
A Swedish family consisting of a businessman named Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), his Norwegian wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), their young daughter Vera (Clara Wettergren) and preschooler Harry (Vincent Wettergren) stays at a luxury resort in the French Alps. On their second day, they see a controlled avalanche as they are having lunch outdoors on the deck of a restaurant. The powder cloud of the avalanche gives the appearance that the snow is rising and will wipe out everyone on the deck. Tomas, who is filming the avalanche on his mobile phone, panics and runs as the deck quickly empties of patrons, leaving Ebba with their children encased in a dense fog. Patrons return to their tables as the fog dissipates, and no one is hurt. That evening they eat dinner with one of Ebba's friends, who has picked up an American man for the evening. Ebba tells the story of the avalanche in English, but Tomas insists he did not run away from the table, and in Swedish adds that one cannot run in ski boots. They argue in front of their embarrassed guests. Ebba is angry that he would not admit he ran away from the avalanche abandoning them. He says he remembers it differently. Tomas and Ebba's marriage hangs suddenly in the balance as Tomas struggles desperately to reclaim his role as family patriarch...
"Turist" or "Force Majeure" was acclaimed upon release, with critics praising its script and cinematography. It won the Best Film award at the 50th Guldbagge Awards, and was named one of the best films of 2014 by various publications. Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus reads, "Gleefully uncomfortable, Force Majeure is a relationship drama that's hard to watch — and just as difficult to ignore."
Is this a masterpiece like some Swedish magazines claim it is? No, not in my book. It´s a slowpaced fragmented moral story with some food for thoughts yes, but not satisfying all in all in my book. The moral set up with Ebba doing the exact same thing in the end that Tomas does in the beginning and with no direct reaction nor from her nor from Tomas stands out. Meaning both did the exact same thing in the exact same situation, but the male side got all the shit for it. However, Ebba is simply no better than Tomas. It comes down to survival of the selfish self in a threatning situation, male or female, according to Ruben Östlund. The acting is ok and the cinematography is ok. But, as said it´s no masterpiece.
A beautifully filmed, incredibly awkward movie. Keeps you so gripped with incredible characters that draw you in.
Saw this is NYC and a few shouted at the screen before walking out - brilliant - that's what you want from art. The director when asked what he wanted couples to do as a result of viewing the film cried 'divorce!'. The film is about a seemingly close-knit, beautiful nordic family (a bit like the old Ski yoghurt commercials) who go on a much needed holiday - ski-ing. When an avalanche approaches the hotel balcony on which they are having lunch, the mother's first instinct is to protect her young children, whereas the father dives for his laptop and smart phone. So begins an analysis of a marriage, responsibilities therein and how what it means to be a man - may have changed. It is hilarious, dark, cynical and an ultimately dour look at relationships, focusing on the negatives first. If you go with your other half - beware. You may see them in a different light.
Not a whole lot going on with this one. It's about a Swedish family vacationing in the Alps and a near death experience sets up a big marriage rift. That's basically the gist of the entire movie. Oh and the Wyndham Rewards Wyzard is in this in a supporting role. Yup...
Written and directed by Ruben Östlund starring a young couple of Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) of 2 children almost having to go through what could have been a traumatic experience regarding an avalanche while the family were dining outside at a pier of a restaurant, slightly exposing the father as a coward and on a not so positive light.
5 Stars Swedish movie
The premise is from an episode of Seinfeld where George pushed kids out of the way when he thinks a fire has endangered partygoers. In the case of 'Force Majeure', an avalanche is the central point. What happens next is a thought-provoking ode to one's character and how such a seminal moment could potentially change several lives. Writer and Director Ruben Östlund must have a bit of Larry David in him. His looks at the human condition are second to none among young filmmakers. The story told here resonates and the result is a movie you'll be pondering long after you watch it. Are you the person you want to be? How would you react in the same moment? This is a wonderful piece of filmmaking that is a tough watch but never uninteresting. Final Score: 8.7/10
Excellent and frustrating in equal measure. Sections of this film I was really engrossed and loved the questions it raises at other points I wanted to sling the TV out of the window. I think if he trimmed half an hour off the running time this would have been a really, really good movie. He didn't though so I'll remain conflicted.
Didn't have high expectations going in. Turned out to be much better than I anticipated.