I saw Downhill at 6 p.m. on a Thursday night, in a theater littered with about 10 other people, including one teen couple who sat at the end of my row, moved up the armrests between three seats, and then promptly laid down and made out the whole time. They really knew what they were doing! I couldn’t even be mad, because a. they kept quiet and b. I truly believe that Miranda Otto’s sex-positive character in Downhill would have been proud of these kids. And Otto was the best part of Downhill! Maybe, in fact, these teens were paying homage, and I just didn’t know it!
For the most part, I quite liked Downhill; although it does feel a bit slight—and as our very own Ciara Wardlow noted, the film upon which it is based, Force Majeure, is very easily accessible on Hulu—I always appreciate whenever Julia Louis-Dreyfus yells, and I have a soft spot for sadsack Will Ferrell, and because I could not get into Avenue 5, I needed to get a Zach Woods fix somehow. But really, Otto is the best here because she’s doing something so different from what most American audiences will know her from: her very dry, exceptionally droll depiction of Aunt Zelda Spellman in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. (Sure, she’s also been on 24: Legacy and Homeland, but I’m really good at never again watching a show that assigns entertainment value to brown people being labeled terrorists, and then being killed for it.)
As Zelda, Otto is exceptionally meme-worthy; her strictness and harshness are qualities of a true believer, but her loyalty to her family is unparalleled. Over the seasons, she’s grown into a strong defender of other witches, and her fashion has stayed on point the whole time. Observe:
Her character in Downhill, meanwhile, is quite a departure from Zelda’s fussiness and fastidiousness. Instead, Charlotte, the manager of the fancy ski chalet in the Alps where Louis-Dreyfus’s Billie and Ferrell’s Pete are vacationing with their two kids, is just in search of a good time. She doesn’t really care about any rules of decorum, and she’s unafraid of sharing her opinions about Billie and Pete’s marriage—or the crisis that hits the family during the film, which involves Pete abandoning Billie and their two sons when they believe an avalanche has hit. When Pete and Billie arrive at the chalet, she welcomes them to the “Ibiza of the Alps,” encourages them to get naked (“Your body is good. Celebrate it!”), and shamelessly asks, “Do you want to be my friend?” before rushing forward to double kiss them each on the cheeks.
She is very jarring to Billie, whose mom-first, attorney-second personality does not exactly jibe with Charlotte’s, but the two eventually form a sort of friendship when Charlotte realizes that Pete’s memory of what happened during that avalanche is primarily self-serving, and dismissive of Billie’s own emotions. Otto’s aghast delivery of Charlotte’s “Good fuck” when she hears Billie’s and Pete’s diverging opinions about the avalanche is, well, all of us.
After that point, Charlotte encourages Billie’s id, encouraging her to masturbate more, consider her own interests, and pursue “adventure just for you, fun just for you.” This is all fairly typical “Live your best life!” language, but Otto is so committed to Charlotte’s zaniness—her over-the-top accent, her ignoring-personal-space body language, how perfect her lipstick is all the time—that you’ll cherish her nevertheless. By the time Charlotte is hooking Billie up with a very hot ski instructor played by Giulio Berruti (look him up, and yowza), you understand that the only way this woman knows how to live is by following every desire that comes upon her, other people be damned.
“I just don’t like so much bullshit all the time,” she says to Billie, and of course, that’s not a particularly revolutionary thing to say (especially given the privilege Charlotte has, as a rich white woman surrounded by other rich people), but the verve with which Otto says it! It’s some truly DGAF energy, on the same wavelength as Jacki Weaver in Poms or Rosie Perez’s “I shaved my balls for this?” T-shirt in Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. “I make my own story,” Otto says as Charlotte, and yes, it feels like a callback to her role as Eowyn and her iconic “I am no man,” and yes, I am going to watch the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy again. See y’all in approximately 12 hours! You could watch Downhill approximately eight times in that period! Get on it!
Downhill opened in the U.S. on Feb. 14. You can read Ciara’s review for Pajiba here.
Header Image Source: YouTube/Downhill