If you want dark comedy laced with gleefully sharp snark, then Julia Louis-Dreyfus is your woman.
From the misanthropy of Elaine Benes in Seinfeld to clumsily calculating Selina Meyer in Veep, she knows how to land a grand barb.
It’s why she (in combination with Aussie co-star Miranda Otto) is the absolute best element in an otherwise distinctly average remake of Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund’s Golden Globe-nominated movie Force Majeure – recreated and retitled Downhill.
Hung on a cracking concept, the original saw a family on a skiing holiday in the French Alps.
An avalanche hits, and dad runs for his life – abandoning his wife and kids and throwing the family into emotional disarray.
Although they all survive, the damage is done and the family fabric fractured.
The pinnacle of uncomfortable comedy, making you wince in your seat, Force Majeure was not unlike observing the slow-motion trauma of Ricky Gervais’ The Office.
This note is important, because while the original’s still the best, the American remake casting Steve Carell in the Gervais role handled the material with aplomb.
Better than Downhill directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who seemed way more comfortable with the cutesier comedy of their previous movie The Way Way Back, which paired Carell with Toni Collette.
Oddly playing down the jet black humour without successfully upping the drama, Louis-Dreyfus is certainly an inspired choice as Billie, the wounded mother trying to hold her sons together.
Ferrell, as goofy husband Pete, is catastrophically miscast, where someone of Carrell’s calibre would have been perfect.
They may also head to the Alps, but in every other way, this remake is American un-exceptionalism.
Force Majeure literally means “superior force” in French, so maybe they had no hope, but there’s also something ugly about this latest in a long line of US studios breaking foreign films an attempt at remaking them.
South Korean director Bong Joon-ho barely got his four Oscars for Parasite home before the rumour mill started churning out suggestions for a US remake.
Let’s hope it never gets off the ground, because the track record is not great.
For every successful translation – like Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-festooned The Departed, which transplanted Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s undercover cop drama Infernal Affairs from Hong Kong to Boston – there are a bunch of disasters.
The usually excellent Spike Lee dudded adapting Park Chan-wook’s thrilling vengeance drama Oldboy with Josh Brolin.
Brad Silberling mangled German director Wim Wenders’ sublime cinematic classic Wings of Desire, grounding City of Angels tough turkey-style with Nic Cage and Meg Ryan.
Downhill falls somewhere in the middle.
It’s not awful, but it never soars either, barring a genuinely excellent performance by Louis-Dreyfus when the emotional baggage of Pete’s betrayal spills out.
When the movie pairs her with anyone other than Ferrell, from a hunky ski instructor to Otto’s oversexed and over-sharing hotelier, excitement spikes.
But Ferrell can’t carry the burden of Pete’s misdeed, dragging down every scene he’s in.
Veep and the US The Office star Zach Woods does his best to lift him up, but Ferrell doesn’t have the dramatic chops.
Perhaps it’s already time for another remake, subbing in Woods’ co-star Carrell?
Downhill is in Australian cinemas now