We first heard whispers of a remake of Ruben Östlund’s (literally) chilly Force Majeure more than three years ago. Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Veep fame was announced as the film’s female lead (and one of its primary producers). However, that was evidently just a prelude to the prospective talent that would eventually board the project. Deadline now reports that Will Ferrell will co-star in the redo, which is titled Downhill. Filmmakers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Way Way Back) will helm the picture and Jesse Armstrong (Veep) is slated to pen the screenplay.
Billed as a comedy-drama, Force Majeure unfolds as a dissection of gender roles and suppressed dysfunctional family dynamics. While on a skiing holiday in the French Alps, a seemingly picturesque nuclear family encounters a controlled avalanche that ostensibly threatens to engulf their resort. Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), the father, panics and immediately runs for cover ahead of his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two children Vera and Harry (Clara and Vincent Wettergren). The couple is then confronted with Tomas’ cowardice, unveiling a slew of personal problems between him and Ebba. Furthermore, as their relationship slowly but surely falls apart, the duo drag their friends and their respective courtships along for a deeply uncomfortable string of realizations, too.
Force Majeure‘s sharply dry tone proves crucial to its intriguing, multilayered story. Östlund’s focus on the grandness of the film’s ski lodge setting and the backdrop of the Alps themselves creates a starkly removed atmosphere wherein rich white folks can simply argue desperately. On the surface, that already forms an amusing context for all manner of dramatic elements.
Except, when dealing with concepts of life and death, even the bickerings of the privileged devises something harrowing. As Östlund told IndieWire, “The ski resort itself is like a metaphor: there’s a constant struggle between man and nature. The civilized, trying to control the force of nature.” There’s a lack of sugarcoating in Force Majeure that tilts the film towards more psychological territory that feels potent against the subtle irony afoot. The film relies so heavily on Kuhnke and Kongsli’s excellent naturalistic performances within a heightened, absurdist landscape, and such a contrast ensures that the movie ends up actually being profound.
The tense situations underpinning Force Majeure can feel more salient than its humor at times. How Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus will approach the frustrating yet mesmerizing pair at the center of Downhill is anyone’s guess.
Neither actor is a stranger to the intense self-deprecation required to deliver various scenes of unreserved patheticness. For instance, Tomas bursts into outright wailing in the middle of the resort hallway during a moment of emotional climax in the original. It’s funny but for the accompanying shots of two crying children listening in on their parents’ bickering. The frantic nature of Louis-Dreyfus’ protagonist in Veep, as well as the silly antics that Ferrell pulls in many Adam McKay movies (namely Anchorman and Talladega Nights), stem from that same level of self-involvement; they’re just more explosive. The combination of the two could easily result in a more obviously comedic take on Force Majeure than it necessarily inspires.
Yet, we shouldn’t despair, because serious roles aren’t foreign to Ferrell. He does exceptionally well to bring kooky and whimsical material to life while emotionally grounding his characters simultaneously. Whether he’s filling a softly comedic supporting role in Adam Rapp’s Winter Passing or taking center stage in Marc Forster’s Charlie Kaufman-esque Stranger than Fiction, both movies serve as important demonstrations of his ability to turn in subdued onscreen depictions. Ferrell has an oft-unused knack for deft calibration between the funny and the earnest. He could totally descend into Tomas’ mindset of self-preservation and keep it weighty (if still very annoying).
Notably, the temperate honesty and charm of Faxon and Rash’s previous films — they wrote both The Descendents and The Way Way Back, and directed the latter — don’t totally align with the more unabashedly incisive Force Majeure. Nevertheless, Armstrong’s script may provide some substantial tautness for Downhill to work. Armstrong’s lengthy comedy resume includes not just filthily vitriolic satirical comedies like Veep and The Thick of It, but also HBO’s drama Succession (fun fact: this was produced by Ferrell). Thankfully, the latter manages to find a balance of solemnity and dark comedy alongside its acerbic cruelty.
Force Majeure is a cinematic combination of technical wonders and absurd concept. It blends together into a detached but strangely captivating whole examining human frailty. Currently, its remake already employs noteworthy and talented names in comedy today. Although it’s understandable to worry about a creative team that so often skews bombastic in their onscreen offerings, there’s a chance that Ferrell, Louis-Dreyfus, and gang will find a tempered way to spin Downhill that doesn’t undo the original’s subtle brutality.