Genuinely Great: Downhill

Wow, Rotten Tomatoes Reviewers, take it down a notch. I feel like yesterday I was guilty of whining, yet I don’t see a lot of other folks being as self-aware. Both in my personal life and in movie criticism there’s a lot of hair trigger condemnatory folks walking around. When we read a Facebook or Instagram post, can we start with the assumption that everyone has flaws and that most people aren’t out to take anyone down. Please, can we?

Isn’t is also alright that we come from different opinions and perspectives and if we don’t agree, that does not and should not mean we are suddenly not able to care for one another?

With that lament out of the way, let me say, going in to Downhill I worried whether this was another foreign film remake ruined by Americans. In this case, I was the premeditated hypercritical person, since Downhill was very well done. I confess my bias had come from three lesser remakes: Starbuck (turned into Delivery Man) and Intouchables (adapted to The Upside) and the worst Gloria Bell (adapted to the mean spirited Gloria).

I confess, Force Majeure was a tremendous film, but due to bad memory, I just remember being moved in a disturbed “Joker” type of way. Remember, the responsible party, screenwriter Ruben Ostlund, also wrote the ultra wonder called The Square which is equally upsetting.

So why is Downhill worthy on its own? First and foremost the two leads, known for comedy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrel were simply outstanding portraying married folks who have grown apart. I know this won’t go over well in our current populace though since we have glorified marital partnership and villainized singledom. How dare screenwriters try to suggest that sometimes married people have different moral compasses either unaddressed from the get-go unaddressed or those whose personal ethics fork off in different directions? Yet if we were all really honest and self-aware, this would not necessarily be tragic

I stand by Downhill’s writers Jesse Armstrong, Nate Faxon and Jim Rash and hope people can be more open-minded and as a result more loving. One of my favorite scenes in the entire film (NOT a spoiler) is when Julia is riding a chairlift with a 30 year old woman who claims “black and white” judgment on a couples’ issue, and Julia questions if everything is that cut and dry. Let’s hope our human connection has more than two colors: love or hate.

“The Square”, Way Outside the Box

There were many reasons to escape into the cinema today; 11 hours (in two days) of intense retail work (100% friendly customers though), wide angle steer clear of some who haven’t found their zen, and an ice cold message from a former college sweetheart. Need I go on?

I was even willing to go solo to “The Square” knowing how much I loved the director’s (Ruben Ostlund) previous film “Force Majeure” which was nominated for a Golden Globe back in 2015. But to the companionship rescue galloped my friend Dave, who went way outside his box by attending a foreign film of considerable length, 2:22.

And just like Mikey in the old Life commercials, he liked it! And so did I….but….

Ok positives first:
Tremendous screen writing*. This film had that verisimilitude that the phrase “you can’t make this sh*& up” implies. I won’t give away any of the ‘what the bleep just happened’ moments, but three stand out specifically to me.

The acting was top notch: Claes Bang, who rarely leaves the screen, was totally believable as the museum director who slides down the slippery slope of megalomaniac justice seeker. Elisabeth Moss’s character is if the Handmaid (she’s in the Margaret Atwood novel inspired tv series) got revenge by going off the deep end.

Cinematography, again, gorgeous, from the sex scenes to the art work, to the spiral staircases that symbolically end in a square, just fabulous.

And if the *one wild loose end that isn’t tied up is a message that we care more about the impact of fictional work then we do human reality, then let’s give this movie the Academy Award. Though Ruben should really have a flyer ready to explain that to people on their way out.

My only gripe (besides the obscurity of the aforementioned) was the last 15 minutes. If Ruben had ended it at the press conference, hand the Oscar over right now. But to go on and on meandering to a cheerleader’s competition and then a near miss at a dumb ass parent move (never leave your kids in a car in a strange place) which negates character development (like hello, wasn’t that what got you in the mess to begin with?) was a disappointment. Like a Fuji apple I have thoroughly enjoyed only to find a rotten spot on the last bite, that’s “The Square”.

But all is forgiven. One last bite can’t spoil the wonderful surprises, much needed escape, and calm company this experience supplied. Go see this.