By Gary “Wrecking Ball” Murray
Starring Jake Gyllenhall, Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper
Written by Bryan Sipe
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
Running time 100 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Everyone handles grief in a multitude of ways and no one way is right or wrong. Some take it with a degree of comedy and a celebration of the life lived. Others find the darkest of hallows with the facing of mortality. In Demolition, we see the story of how one man handles this situation.
The film opens with Davis (Jake Gyllenhall) and his wife Julia (Heather Lind) traveling from the NYC suburbs and into the city. With shocking suddenness, there is a wreck and the next scene is in the hospital. Davis has not a scratch on his body but his young bride is gone.
Davis works in an investment firm that is run by his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper). The two men do not get along with Phil thinking his little girl is not good enough for Davis. The family is of the NYC upper crust and Davis is a Jersey guy. Phil is devastated by the loss of his little girl and has a hard time coping with the situation. Davis knows that he only has his job is because of Julia
While in the intensive care unit, Davis tries to get a packet of peanut M&M’s but it fails to fall from the dispenser. At the funeral wake, Davis goes into the other room and pens a hand written letter to the vending company. In the note, Davis admits to many truths about his relationship and his life. During the next few days, there are many more letters. He is pouring out his emotions in the written word.
Late at night, he gets a phone call from the customer service person at the vending company. Her name is Karen (Naomi Watts) and she is captivated by the honesty of his words. As they talk, Davis becomes fascinated by this mysterious voice over the phone. He begins to track her down which is surprisingly easy to do.
The two become parts of each other lives. Davis also bonds with Karen’s teen son Chris (Judah Lewis). It seems that the young man is also a lost soul and is trying to find his way through life even before he attends high school. Davis also becomes strangely obsessed with machinery and begins to take apart things like refrigerators and expresso machines just to understand them better. He also takes on a blue collar job of house destruction finding solace in destroying what was once a home. It is a metaphor to his life. He also sees images of Julia in mirrors and glass.
While this is going on, Jake begins to say exactly what he means, without the societal filter. As the film progresses, there becomes a degree of discomfort and hostility that is laid at Jake’s feet. It is a festering expression that needs to be released.
The biggest praises have to go to Jake Gyllenhall as Davis. He goes through stages of grief in a different manner than most but it is still a valid path. It is presented as a stoic attribute, confusion incarnate. As he goes down the rabbit hole, Davis lets his facial hair go. It is a simple trick to give the audience a grander understanding of his mental state. But, when he finally shaves off his growth, the effect is a revelation.
Naomi Watts is given the harder acting role. Her Karen is a lost woman, at a crossroads but with no idea about what direction to take. She hides her fears and pains in a cloud of cannabis, never realizing that it is just another crutch in her life. One gets the feeling that she is attracted to wounded people and Davis is at the top of that mountain. One has to wonder that when he comes down that mountain if they will have anything in common.
Oscar nominated director Jean-Marc Vallee has made some impressive motion pictures over the years. His resume includes such stalwart films as Dallas Buyers Club. Wild and The Young Victoria. There are some of the same elements of brilliance in Demolition. At the same time it does lack the focus of his other works. Some people may handle this process of coping with laser focus while others will find the willing suspension of disbelief a hard pill to swallow. There are moments that a bust-gut funny while other moments are deeply dark. Like grief itself, the film is all over the place. There are a big couple of twists at the end that give the overall story a degree of weakness. It was unwarranted and sullied the first 80 minutes.
The film is written by Bryan Sipe and the film is a bit of a scattershot. He finds some genuine black humor with loss but other moments are hard to comprehend. Like a roller coaster, there has to be major dips and hairpin turns before everything comes back to normality.
The most honest moments of the screenplay come between Jake and the young Judah Lewis who plays the son Chris. Both males are lost in the world and trying to figure out what path there is to travel. Though both are at different points on the roadway, they are both traveling blind on an unknown path. The bond between the two is the single most genuine part.
Demolition is an interesting character study with a strong lead. While many will find the film an off-putting experience, others with find honesty to the proceedings. It will be a polarizing night at the cinema. It is definitely a film not for the masses but more for those who like an eclectic experience.