Demolition (2016)
Demolition (2016)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Release Date: April 8th, 2016 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Polly Draper, Debra Monk, Heather Lind, Wass Stevens, Judah Lewis

 


 

A

fter his wife Julia (Heather Lind) is killed in a car accident, Davis C. Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) decides to reexamine his life. But rather than ruminating on the happy times in his marriage and grieving his loss as his family expects, he fixates on minor inconveniences scattered throughout his daily existence. This leads him to start volunteering in demolition work and writing letters to Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), a vending machine customer service representative who shares some unlikely quirks with the widower. As their friendship develops, and his connection with his boss and father-in-law Phil Eastwood (Chris Cooper) sours, Davis attempts to dissect his career, his emotions, and his relationships to find out what is truly important.

A mere 10 minutes after his wife is pronounced dead, Davis’ bagged snack refuses to drop from the coin-operated dispenser. This is the kind of dark, sardonic humor at work, which permeates the highly visual stages of grief experienced by the protagonist. As the picture moves quickly through the immediate aftermath, it’s apparent that a commentary on routines, regrets, and reflections will play a prominent part. Although the writing is exceptional, and the exploration of adjusting to tragedy (especially with a classically damaged psyche) is poignant, there’s something missing from Gyllenhaal’s character – it’s not quite enough of a stretch for the actor, who has churned out extremely distinguishable performances of late.

While his last few films forced Gyllenhaal to dispense with familiarity or a comfort zone, “Demolition” seems like it was written with him in mind, requiring little more than a slightly normalized version of his sensationally twisted Louis Bloom from “Nightcrawler.” The initial emotionlessness betrays a quirky weirdness that isn’t as much of a coping mechanism as it is a contrived personality for the sake of cinematic humor (a “Tootsie”-esque moment in a crowded New York street as Mitchell strolls toward the camera is a prime example, though it’s also a grandly amusing shot). But the many philosophical observations contain a haunting profoundness, rife with verbally artistic contemplations and abundant metaphors as Mitchell goes about “repairing the human heart,” as his father-in-law suggests. As his social and professional life spirals downward, the audience is treated to the uplifting notion that this deconstruction is actually more along the lines of finding clarity or purpose. Watts adds a comparably troubled soul to complicate Davis’ viewpoint on loss, though her likemindedness is also a touch too convenient when the plot regularly arrives at formulaic revelations.

The literal demolition of a house provides symbolism far more obvious than the genuinely heartfelt moments toward the conclusion, which are conversely so subdued that many of the details fail to hit hard enough or exude their significance. But the poetic dialogue, the dreamlike flashbacks, and the unfocused randomness (director Jean-Marc Vallee seems to be aiming for a modernized Godard) are always compelling, even when the meandering carries on longer than it should. In finding buried importance in little actions, or displaying pronounced battles with bereavement, or simply surveying the complexities of human interactions, “Demolition” is a worthwhile, thought-provoking piece that, though it may tidy up pessimistic realism, knows when to offer satisfaction to complement affliction.

– The Massie Twins

  • 7/10