The premise of four friends reuniting to tackle a monumental crawl might sound familiar to anyone who watched last year’s enjoyable Cornetto-closer The World’s End. With the same booze count but no aliens in sight this time, can James Rouse‘s low-budget, camcorder travelogue still conjure up the same sense of nostalgic comedy or will things quickly go the way of the title?
Twenty years after they last met, Gordon (Richard Lumsden) reunites three friends (Ned Dennehy, Jeremy Swift and Karl Theobald) to walk the famous Wainwright coast-to-coast path across northern England and let his son Luke record the adventure. However it’s not long before the foursome are stumbling from one personal crisis to another.
Billed as ‘A Road Movie, on foot’ it’s clear early on we’re not in soft-lensed Alexander Payne territory here. Instead Rouse has crafted a low-budget, drizzle-strewn mini delight which gives ample room for both stunning landscape panoramas and plenty of introspection, usually thanks to a round or two of local ales.
With each character facing their own ‘demons’ as such it’s not long before the four are arguing and bickering in very much the manner expected of four men who’ve outgrown their childhood and perhaps the bonds which kept them together back then. However in the hands of four talented actors the material, whether semi-improvised or not, feels authentic and warmly delivered as if these four actually had grown up together.
And while there’s nothing too revelatory here – a drunken confession notwithstanding – that’s probably to be expected from a bunch of guys happy to soothe the day’s aches and pains with ale or try it on with a couple of female hikers that decide to tag along for a while.
However those warm, honest performances, some good gags along the way (an early one featuring a stranded Luke stands out) and a touching sense of regaining some part of themselves, City Slickers-style, means the central foursome make Downhill a pleasurable ride all the way.
An enjoyable alternative ‘road’ movie that shows – unlike its title – that it’s not all downhill come middle-age.