Tag Archives: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Poles Apart

Downhill

by George Wolf

If you’re a pair of American filmmakers out to remake an exceptional foreign film from the last decade, you gotta pick a side.

Are you gonna put some bankable U.S. stars up front and just add your name to someone else’s originality, or do you have a vision that can make the story your own?

To their credit, co-writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash choose the latter path for Downhill, their take on Ruben Ostlund’s 2014 stunner, Force Majeure (Turist). Faxon and Rash won an Oscar for their The Descendants screenplay – so the boys can write – but this makeover ultimately lands as a pleasant exercise stripped of the insightful bite.

The catalyst remains the same: a traumatic event changes the way a couple sees each other. Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billie Stanton (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are on a lavish ski vacation in Austria with their two sons. Eating lunch on the resort’s outdoor porch, the family is terrified when an avalanche appears to be heading right for them.

Bille clutches her children in fear, while Pete grabs his phone and runs.

Turns out it was a planned snow release and everyone’s fine, but the Stanton marriage has been shaken to its core, no matter how hard Pete tries to revise history with another couple (Zach Woods and Zoe Chao).

Faxon and Rash do Americanize the story well, as Billie first looks to blame the resort (“I’m an attorney!”), and Pete, continually wallowing in the loss of his father eight months prior, becomes a personification of rationalized selfishness.

But while Ostlund used the secondary couple as a device to invite us into a near clinical deconstruction of societal assumptions, Faxon and Rash introduce a new “B” story involving an aggressive resort concierge (Amanda Otto) who lives on the wild side. It’s an uneven trade of insight for zany, and can’t move the film from an uneven headspace that’s too serious for comedy but too light for drama.

Downhill does give us the chance to see Will and Julia go head to head, and that is no small treat. Ferrell is a natural as the big awkward goof trying to come to terms with himself, but make no mistake, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the reason to see this movie.

Billie is confused, hurt and angry, and Louis-Dreyfus sells it all with total authenticity, often with little to no dialog. She finds real depth in terrain that’s often shallow (such as Billie’s flirtations with a younger ski instructor), ultimately offering more proof that, in case you’ve missed the last few decades, JLD is a flat-out treasure.

And much like Billy Ray’s updated Secret in Their Eyes five years ago, Downhill has a humdinger of an ending to deal with. In the original film, Ostlund gave us an organic twist that managed to re-frame all that came before. Faxon and Rash’s take feels a bit like hitting the Ohio slopes after a trip to Vermont.

There are similarities, but the thrill is gone.

If you’ve haven’t seen Force Majeure, Downhill is a perfectly acceptable vehicle for two well-loved stars. If you have, well, see it again.

Oscar Countdown: Snubs Galore

The Oscar nominations always cause a stir, what with the Academy’s glaring myopia when it comes to certain films. This year, the snubs were fewer and less harsh than in years past (like that year they totally ignored three of the best films of the year in Drive, Take Shelter and Young Adult, and failed to nominate the year’s best lead actress performances). We may never get over 2011.

Still, as always, there are some very curious omissions. Here we run down our 5 biggest gripes.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

The magnificent Coen brothers’ immersive character study set in the unforgiving winter of the Greenwich Village folk scene garnered no love for its outstanding lead performance or its pristine screenplay or its rich and textured direction or even its music! That’s a lot of snubs for one film. It would certainly have been tough to find room for the wondrous Oscar Isaac in a leading actor field more crowded than most, and though the Coens are perpetual competitors for best director (by Oscar’s standards or anyone else’s), who would we bump this year? Scorsese? That’s a hard choice.

When it comes to original screenplay, we may have dumped Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Llewyn. There’s no question that we would have given it the best picture nod over Philomena.

 

2. Stories We Tell

The Academy had their heads up their asses with this one. In fact, there are a number of documentaries better suited to the award than this lineup suggests, but Sarah Polley’s deceptively complicated, brave and clever film cries out for recognition. Not only among the best documentaries of the year but one of the very best films overall, we would certainly have knocked Dirty Wars from the list in favor of Polley’s film. Truth be told, the only film in the category more deserving is The Act of Killing, so we’d have been fine with kicking any of the others to the curb to make room.

 

3. Her

The most imaginative and lovely film of 2013 went without acknowledgment in acting and directing, which is sinful. Our first order of business would be to get Scarlett Johansson a best actress nomination, even though the studio pushed her for supporting. Let’s be honest, regardless of the fact that she’s never onscreen, she plays one of two lovers in a love story. She’s the lead. And in a brilliant voice-only effort, she easily deserves Sandra Bullock’s spot. (In fact, we’d pick Johansson over Bullock, Streep or even Dench this year.)

Joaquin Phoenix should have edged out Leo (though we loved Leo’s work, it’s just a very tight race this year!). Director is as tight as actor, and while Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese are 1) geniuses and 2) nominated for outstanding work this year, we’d have given one of their places to Spike Jonze for crafting a beautiful love story set in an unerringly crafted near-future, and doing so without a hint of cynicism or derivation.

 

4. Blue Is the Warmest Color

Apparently France couldn’t get off its cheese eating ass to get the film released in time for Oscar consideration, which is an absolute tragedy. The film should, by all accounts, boast two nominations, one for Best Foreign Language Film and another for Best Actress. The fact that Adele Exarchopoulos’s career-defining turn in this romantic drama will go unacknowledged is a crime.

 

5. And the Rest

We’d rather see Julie Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) for Best Actress than Meryl Streep. We know that sounds like heresy, but her performance in August: Osage County is so hyperbolic that it’s more exaggeration than acting. True, the weak direction of A: OC is most likely to blame, but the end result just doesn’t measure up.

We would also have given either Daniel Bruhl (Rush) or James Gandolfini (Enough Said) the nod over Jonah Hill for Best Supporting Actor.

 

For more on our Oscar picks, listen to George’s stint on the Sunny 95 (WSNY Columbus, OH) morning show.

 





A Bittersweet Farewell

by Hope Madden

How bittersweet that the great James Gandolfini goes out on such a high note. The man who may have been the all time best onscreen Mafia boss showed surprising versatility throughout his film career, and this talent is on beautiful display in one of his final performances.

In writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s new indie gem Enough Said, Gandolfini plays Albert, the unlikely yet fitting new suitor in Eva’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) life.

Both are divorced and facing the prospect of empty nests as their daughters head off to college, and together they develop a sweet crush that is a joy to watch as it blossoms.

Disheveled and genuine, Louis-Dreyfus has never been better, and together these veterans best known for their epically impressive television careers sparkle with tender onscreen chemistry.

Holofcener’s made a career of exploring the issues facing privileged, urban dwelling women. While this may seem too trite to tolerate, her laid back style, dialed-down neuroticism and eye for casting tend to balance things out.

Characteristically, Holofcener’s focus in Enough Said is the day to day struggle with intimacy, connection, and the compromise that accompanies a relationship. Still, this film is probably her most mainstream and accessible to date because the problems themselves are more universal.

Expect the loose narrative and slice of life structure, but with Louis-Dreyfus and her infectious chuckle driving the story, everything seems cheerier, more forgivable, and ultimately hopeful.

The film’s conflict feels a little contrived, but Louis-Dreyfus’s comic timing and unadorned performance keep things honest. She’s aided immeasurably by a cast eyeball deep in talent.

The always excellent Catherine Keener and Toni Collette are impressive, of course. Ben Falcone also gets in some good lines, and keep a look out for Toby Huss as Eva’s ex. (He’s The Wiz, and nobody beats him! Seriously, it’s that guy from Seinfeld. You’re welcome.)

Holofcener’s crafted a wise and affectionate look at middle age. Her writing is just as incisive as ever, but this cast finds more heart in the humor – Gandolfini in particular. As he did with all of his best work, he uncovers the vulnerability in the character that makes him human, recognizably flawed and therefore compelling.

That’s right. He could even play the romantic lead. The guy could do anything.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEEJaIjF_Lo