OP-ROB RATING: BENCH
“Demolition” is a film directed by Jean-Marc Vallée about an investment banker named Davis Mitchell who suddenly loses his wife in a horrific car accident. Davis is portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, who turns in an excellent performance as the distraught widower. However, is Davis distraught because of the loss of someone he loved? Or is he distraught because he doesn’t know how to feel about it? After the car accident, Davis goes to the hospital where he trys to purchase a packet of Peanut M&M’s from a vending machine. The bag gets stuck. He returns home in his blood spattered clothes and eats a bowl of cereal, watches Animal Planet, and neglects the gifts of concerned neighbors outside of his door. Davis doesn’t seem to be at all distressed over the loss of his former wife, Julia (Heather Lind). In fact, to the surprise of his boss and father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper), Davis returns to work a few days after the the tragedy. The overall conflict in the film revolves around Davis and his inability to feel “normal” about losing his wife. Everyone around him seems to be more upset than he is.
Davis’ confusion with how to feel manifests itself in mini demolition projects. In order to figure out why his refrigerator is leaking, Davis tears the thing into every individual piece. He does the same with his laptop, and even a squeaky stall door in his office bathroom. The story becomes more complicated when Davis writes several comprehensive letters to the vending machine company that couldn’t fulfill his candy purchase. His letters are answered by Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), a woman who takes an interest in Davis and his situation. Karen and Davis meet up and appear to be headed into a romantic relationship. However, the story takes another turn when Davis starts hanging out with Karen’s rebellious teenage son, Chris (Judah Lewis). Together they embark on several adevntures including a demolition of Davis’ luxurious home in the suburbs. The odd tag-team goes about the house with sledgehammers destroying everything from counter tops to flat screen TVs.
Before “Demolition” Vallée directed the "Dallas Buyers Club" which won Matthew McConnaughey the Academy Award for best actor. He also directed "Wild", which flew relatively under the radar two years ago. Both films were based on true stories and involved a fair amount of soul searching. "Wild" was about a woman named Cheryl Strayed who went backpacking up the Pacific Coast Trail on a journey of self-discovery. "Wild" focused completely on its main subject portrayed by Reese Witherspoon. Throughout the film her background story was built up in such a way that we felt her pain and anguish over the sudden death of her beloved mother, or at least we could understand it. “Demolition” shares many similarities with “Wild”: a sudden death, an exploration of a relationship, a broken individual.
This idea of having a relationship end abruptly is one that should be familiar to many people; it's certainly familiar to me. Having someone suddenly drop out of your life kind brings about a reevaluation of what that particular relationship meant. How does one feel when this occurs? It could be a death, or a breakup, or a sudden move. There is a need to metaphorically take the relationship apart piece by piece and figure out what happened, or what can be learned from it. The first third of “Demolition” is superb, and presents Davis as an interesting character with a background worth exploring. His anguish feels genuine. Personally, I was excited to see what he could discover about his relationship with Julia. However, “Demolition” shoots off in so many different directions, there is ultimately very little to take away from the film. There is a storyline involving Karen and her boyfriend. There is another storyline involving Chris and his sexual orientation as a young teenager. Finally, there is a shocking revelation near the end of the film about Julia that quite frankly adds nothing to the film but unnecessary confusion. “Demolition” has more than enough with Davis Mitchell and unfortunately his story is sacrificed for several other half-baked ones.
There is a well-executed film to be made out of “Demolition”. One that explores a man’s struggle to cope with the fact that he never really knew his wife. It may even involve some of the seemingly ridiculous dismantling of household appliances. But by the time Davis has begun skipping work, growing a beard, hanging out with a teenager, and taking a sledgehammer to his multi-million dollar home, we have to wonder just how serious he is about his situation. Is this a a real human being? Or a talented actor being paid to have a mid-life crisis? For a film with so many worthy assets, it’s disappointing to see it fail under misdirection. The opening third of “Demolition” may end up providing the groundwork for an excellent film, but the rest of it is going to have to be demolished.