Pain, anger, hurt, fear, remorse, regret, loneliness,… these are just some of the emotions someone may experience when they lose a loved one. But Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) doesn’t feel any of these when he loses his wife in a tragic car accident. He doesn’t feel anything. Is he suffering from deep shock, does he have an undiagnosed illness or is the investment banker just a little bit too wrapped up in himself? That is the question we ask ourselves as we watch DEMOLITION.
Though Davis should be grieving or, at the very least, planning his wife’s funeral, instead he is writing letters to the customer service department of the company that owns the vending machine in the hospital where his wife died. You see, the machine accepted his buck and a quarter but failed to deliver on a package of M&Ms. His letters aren’t so much of a complaint but an explanation of why he’s deserving of a refund. Either way, his words manage to touch a nerve in the company’s sole customer service rep, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG), who takes it upon herself to call him at 2 am to hear him out. Davis is intrigued and wants to meet the person behind the voice at the other end of the phone. He eventually tracks her down and the two of them, along with her 15-year-old son, begin an unlikely friendship that ultimately sets him on the path to putting his life back together.
Wow, I’ve just made the movie sound better than it is. Just as Davis likes to sledgehammer things to bits, screenwriter Bryan Sipe (who also wrote THE CHOICE, a film that recently came to and left our city’s movie screens in the blink of an eye) similarly bops us over the head (more than once) with the film’s grand message that before you can rebuild, you have to take everything apart. As Davis’ father-in-law and boss, Phil (Chris Cooper, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY), watches the young man unravel, he delivers this sage advice. The only problem is that while Davis starts to take everything around him apart – his refrigerator, his computer, the toilet stalls at the office, a cappuccino machine, the ground floor of his house and more, he doesn’t try putting them back together much less attempt to figure out how they worked. He just demolishes in between having flashback moments of happy times with his late wife.
As much as Gyllenhall delivers a good performance here, Davis is just not a sympathetic character. His relationship with Karen is strange too, as her motives for allowing Davis into her private life are never made clear. Her son is a bit of juvenile delinquent with his own set of issues yet she doesn’t seem to mind when she learns that Davis has picked him up after school and taken him somewhere. (I won’t reveal where they went but it’s a good thing she never knew.) If she’s looking for a stable and positive influence for her son, she could do much better than a man who can’t seem to grieve over his wife and is just about to lose his very cushy job. A couple of plot twists at the end are supposed to make us like Davis better, or at least understand him better, but by then it’s too late and we see right through them.
DEMOLITION was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who found great success over the past two years directing DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and WILD. All three films are about people trying to rebuild their lives after experiencing tragedy so maybe this is Vallée’s thing. This film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September though it is just having its global release now – well after the Oscar season has ended – which speaks volumes about what distributor Fox Searchlight thinks of it. I would agree. Although Gyllenhall is a good actor, this is not the right film for his talent. Save your money and wait for it to come out on DVD or VOD.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 30:10.)
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