Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
USA, 2020. Filmhaus Films, Likely Story, Searchlight Pictures. Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, based on the motion picture Force Majeure by Ruben Ostlund. Cinematography by Danny Cohen. Produced by Stefanie Azpiazu, Anthony Bregman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Wolfgang Ramml. Music by Volker Bertelmann. Production Design by David Warren. Costume Design by Kathleen Felix-Hager. Film Editing by Pamela Martin, David Rennie.
Jim Rash and Nat Faxon take the general concept of Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure and make the exact American version of a European film that you’d expect them to, turning brittle humour into open absurdity (expressed by very gifted comedians) and employing a Hollywood story structure that requires that everything that is set up must in some way be processed and resolved (which, in this case, is where they falter). What was originally a very funny exploration of the mystical fragility of masculinity is now about the vulnerability of relationships, with Will Ferrell and an outstanding Julia Louis-Dreyfus taking a skiing vacation at an Austrian resort with their two young sons. The resort is high atop an Alp that is subject to frequent avalanches induced by controlled bombs, and in the main sequence that has been copied exactly from the original film, they are terrified that they are going to be killed when the falling snow engulfs them while sitting on an outdoor patio. Farrell runs in fear during the disaster while Louis-Dreyfus sits tight with the kids, changing her entire perspective on his commitment to their marriage and is overall morality. Furious and upset at his cowardice, she avoids confronting him about it and he insists on their fun continuing as usual (including a very uncomfortable attempt to go heli-skiing), but during a brief visit to their exquisite suite by his younger friend (Zach Woods) and his Live-Laugh-Love girlfriend (Zoe Chao), the fight they’ve been trying to keep private blows up in their visitors’ presence. From there the vacation is nothing but mishaps swimming in resentment, she takes a day for herself and is seduced by a handsome Italian ski instructor, he goes drinking with Woods and almost starts a fight in a bar. Poor communication is the villain of this piece, for the main couple as well as in the differences that arise in the second couple, and just in case we’re not getting the message, we have Miranda Otto and her very funny scenes as the resort’s oversexed welcome wagon to deliver the message of culture conflict as another form of miscommunication. What it maintains from Ostlund is a very strong visual formalism, at one point Ferrell and Woods mention that they feel like they’re inside a screensaver, their tiny selves dwarfed by the magnificent expanse around them, and, like Ostlund’s film, it is centered around a series of contained, conceptual sequences. Even if you prefer the majesty of the original there’s plenty to enjoy here, particularly Louis-Dreyfus’s perfectly acidic delivery, but Faxon and Rash let us down with a weak conclusion that does not give us the closure that we were feeling manipulated into looking for and doesn’t make up for it with any kind of intelligent, open-ended whimsy either.