It’s one of those “you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried” movies, but someone has managed to do it…and make me like it.
Demolition is not your typical “woe is me” story about a man who loses his wife – and/or life, depending on your perspective. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts, this quirky, destructive film is about Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal), a successful investment banker whose life goes completely off its organized rails when his wife dies in a car accident.
The night she dies, he has an interaction with a vending machine that goes a little south, and he starts sending very detailed complaints to the company’s customer service department. The department is staffed by Karen (Watts), who eventually responds to his letters. The two get to know each other, and as Davis tears his life to pieces on multiple levels, Karen and her own crazy problems are right there with him.
I have enjoyed a number of Gyllenhaal’s recent movies (Nightcrawler, Prisoners), but I was a sucker for him in Source Code, which I thought was an underrated movie. Here’s the trailer for Source Code for some context or a refresher, depending on your situation.
Demolition brings us a Gyllenhaal that I think people will interpret in one of two ways: a dude with a lot of issues (my perception of him), or a spoiled brat who just can’t get his way (a number of people who attended the screening I was at). Both of those come from Davis’s propensity to, for most of the movie, find beauty in destruction – and it’s not just through his usual relationships. The man destroys coffee tables, walls refrigerators, bathroom doors – and yep, his own house. I found his performance in Demolition as great as the one he gave in Source Code. All of his twists and turns as Davis in Demolition make fantastic film fodder.
And let’s not forget Naomi Watts as Karen. She’s just as messed up, except she’s on the other side of Davis’s grass. Where he is rich, well-employed, and has had some form of marital stability, Karen is living modestly, works a not-so-great job, is often high, and is in a relationship with a man who doesn’t make her happy. Even though the two have different circumstances, they’re basically on the same kind of path. You can’t help but feel sorry for them.
But there’s also some twisted humour and hope in each of their stories. You’re drawn to the character – you feel with them, laugh with them, and share a few WTF moments with them. This film does a great job of reminding us just how lame change might appear on the surface, but if you cultivate it just right, you can become more than someone consumed by ruts and regrets.
It’s also worth noting supporting characters – like Davis’s father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper) and Karen’s son, Chris (Judah Lewis) add some fantastic fuel to the effed-up fire. Phil, on so many levels, makes Davis feel worse about himself, while Chris, for the most part, acts as Davis’s antidote.
What about all the technical stuff? There are some holes. A few scenes felt redundant – just with different lines (or actions, depending on what Davis was destroying) coming out of the actor’s mouth. Some of the story is predictable. The good news is, for the most part, you end up more focusing on the messy lives of the two characters – not so much on the faux pas of the writers/directors/etcetera.
I think this would make for a cool date night movie, or one of those films you’d go see with your buddies. Laugh together, gasp together – it’s one worth enjoying if you’re looking for a decent Dramedy.
Three-and-a-half wrecking balls out of five.