Demolition is not a great film, it might not even be that good. It has this very strange tone, somewhere between dark comedy and drama, that didn’t really work for me. Most of my distaste for the movie comes from its main character, who comes across as too emotionally immature for me to have any patience with him or his story. I believe there is effort in the film, but ultimately it just didn’t come together in a compelling way.
Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) has just lost his wife in a car accident. He’s not sure how he feels about it. His wife’s death causes him to reexamine his life. He starts taking things apart to see how they work, in a symbolic attempt to work through his own unexamined grief. He writes complaint letters to a vending machine company, which becomes the starting point for a friendship between him and Karen (Naomi Watts) and her son Chris (Judah Lewis). Eventually he ends up quitting his boring day job in his father in law’s (Chris Cooper) investment firm, and working on demolition crews because he can’t work through is own problems. Eventually he is forced to face the realities of his relationship with his late wife, and starts making amends.
Demolition seems like a very Jean-Marc Vallee movie, though more in the vein of Wild than Dallas Buyers Club. He seems to have these weird self-help scenarios where his main characters do unconventional activities and through the experience become better people. It says something (perhaps) interesting when you compare the more female driven Wild with the male main character of Demolition. Cheryl in that movie goes into nature to overcome her personal demons, and danger or destruction is directed at herself, but in Demolition Davis takes apart personal property (that is not always his). It’s a much more destructive activity that he takes on, and to be honest I wasn’t a huge fan of it. This distaste was compounded after he goes from just taking apart things because he wants to examine them to just all out destroying things. He doesn’t do this out of curiosity, but out of lack of introspection.
It’s not as if Davis is a completely unlikable person, but he does a lot of stuff in the middle to upset his late wife’s parents that just really put me off the movie. It was frustrating because he has the inability to feel any genuine emotion, but he seems to go out of his way to upset those who do. Obviously, because of Jean-Marc Vallee’s self-help thing that he seems to be doing, he gets better by the end, but it doesn’t feel earned somehow. The only thing that felt right about his arc was his friendship with Chris, which seemed to do both of them a lot of good and helped them grow as people. So the whole movie is not bad; it’s just that I was losing a lot patience with Davis in the middle stretch which ended up being the majority of the movie.
Overall, I did think the cast did a really good job. It was nice to see Chris Cooper and Jake Gyllenhaal pair up as father (in law) and son just like in October Sky! I think Jake Gyllenhaal can pull off the crazier moments pretty well, but the film wasn’t taking them to the extent of say, Nightcrawler (as it probably shouldn’t have) so his performance maybe wasn’t as impressive as it could have been. I still thought he was pretty good though, despite being put off by his character for most of the film. He works well with Naomi Watts, and I though the kid was very natural onscreen.
Most of my problems with the movie were on a story level, not an execution level. There was a lot of weird self-help doing crazy things to work out your issues stuff, which did not always come across well. Demolition was not a terrible movie, but definitely one that could have been better.
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars
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