How Searchlight is selling a romantic comedy remake about what happens when disaster strikes.
The 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure was critically acclaimed when it came out, praised for its depiction of how a single event brings into sharp relief what someone’s priorities are.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell star in Downhill, a remake/homage of that film, opening this week. The two play Billie (Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Ferrell), a husband and wife who take their two kids on a ski vacation to the Alps. Everything is going fine until an avalanche comes careening toward the resort they’re staying at. In response, Pete runs away, completely abandoning his family. Everyone is fine, but Pete’s actions have repercussions, understandably angering Billie and casting a pall over the rest of the trip.
Like the original, the new version – directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash – is a mix of drama and comedy, but Searchlight’s campaign emphasizing the latter, an approach that makes sense given who the leads are.
Just one poster (by marketing agency Eclipse) has been released, coming out in January. It communicates the setting and premise pretty well, showing Billie and Pete clad in ski gear at the top of a mountain, pointedly looking away from each other. The pose highlights the tension between the two that will permeate the story, a feeling emphasized by the copy at the top reading “A different kind of disaster movie.” That copy might be a tad cloy, but it attempts to explain that the audience shouldn’t expect a desperate struggle to survive under hundreds of tons of snow but something else tied to their relationship.
Late December brought the first trailer (4.3 million views on YouTube), which starts off by showing an awkward but loving family on vacation as part of an effort to spend more time together. When an avalanche hits the ski resort they’re staying at, Keith clearly abandons the others, which leads to problems between him and Billie, especially since he won’t admit what he’s done. The humor and drama of the movie, then, come from how the two of them deal with the fallout from what he’s done.
Online and Social
Pretty standard stuff on the movie’s official website. The “Cast” and “Filmmakers” sections have those involved offering a brief comment on the story or setting, which is somewhat interesting.
Advertising and Promotions
The first look at the movie was offered at the same time it was announced it would have its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
A clip was released in early February showing Keith and Billie bringing their complaints about how the avalanche was handled to the management of the resort, who insists things went just as they should have.
There was only one promotional partnership, with e-card company Postable offering a number of movie-themed cards with passive aggressive notes you could send to someone you want to send a pointed message to.
Promotional videos like this were used on social media and presumably TV as commercials, all of which highlight the broader comedic elements of the story and show the awkwardness of the vacation.
Media and Press
Just before the Sundance screening there was a feature on how Dreyfuss worked for years to make an American adaptation of the hit Swedish film happen.
During the festival there were numerous interviews with the cast and filmmakers where they talked about how their movie was an homage to the original, how the two leads bonded during production and more. Dreyfuss also addressed how surprising it was she and Ferrell hadn’t worked together before.
The leads, as well as costar Zach Woods, made the talk show rounds in recent weeks to hype the film and talk about working together.
One question that keeps coming up is this: Why was the campaign so truncated? It’s been less than two months since the first trailer debuted, and while there was some press about the movie prior to that the actual campaign has all been executed within that period. Some of that might be the result of not wanting it to get lost in the Oscar cycle. Or the production schedule combined with the desire to hit the Valentine’s Day release date might have simply been the reality at hand.
Whatever the reason, Searchlight’s marketing has made the understandable decision to focus on the comedic dynamic between Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus. That might be what was seen as most appealing to U.S. audiences, but it also means the campaign has frequently downplayed the drama and played up the comedy. In doing so it unfortunately makes the movie look like some of the generic comedies Ferrell has starred in recently. Meanwhile, you have Louis-Dreyfus in the press, particularly at Sundance, getting deep about the story and the drama inherent in relationships, especially when they’re being tested.