Friday, April 15, 2016

Movie Review #409: "Demolition" (2016)

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
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After the death of his wife, an investment banker named Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins to reexamine his life. Unsure of why he isn't more broken up about her death, he starts to literally demolish the objects in his life in an effort to reach an understanding. He also forms a friendship with Karen (Naomi Watts), a customer service representative for a vending machine company, who helps him talk through his odd form of grief. 

Director Jean-Marc Vallée is best known for his Oscar nominated and winning films "Dallas Buyer's Club" and "Wild," two films we enjoyed quite a bit. His latest release, "Demolition," falls a bit short of those two award nominated offerings. This is not to say "Demolition" is a bad film, it's just a step down from the high benchmark set by his previous works. The best part about this film is, as we expected, Jake Gyllenhaal. We defy you, name another actor his age with the same acting abilities and range. Gyllenhaal is in a class all his own when it comes to giving commanding performances time and time again throughout a vast array of genres. Here, he gives another excellent performance as a 'grieving' widower named Davis. Davis is struggling to understand why he doesn't feel more sad after the unexpected death of his wife Julia, played by Heather Lind.

Davis works through his issues in a couple of ways. The first way begins in the form of a complaint letter written to the vending machine company that stiffed him out of his $1.25 10 minutes after his wife passed. What starts as an innocent complaint letter quickly turns into a long, drawn out autobiography of sorts as he vents his frustrations and life story to the anonymous person tasked with reading the incoming mail. The person on the other end, as it turns out, is not so anonymous. Karen, played by Naomi Watts, a single mother and habitual pot smoker, takes it upon herself to read Davis's letters and personally calls him on the phone in the middle of the night one night to find out more as she has become obsessed with reading his letters. It is in these letters where the audience gets a full explanation, without truncation, about what and how Davis is really going through and feeling as a new widower. This sparks an odd friendship between the two of them as they immerse themselves in each other's lives. Davis eventually meets Karen's 15 year old son Chris, played by newcomer Judah Lewis, and gets to know him and his struggles with his identity and sexuality. When Karen is essentially ignoring her son (who is suspended from school in a seemingly frequent occurrence) and is off getting high, it leaves Davis to tend to a child he doesn't really know and has only just met. Karen is a pretty bad movie mom, one of the worst we've seen this year so far.

The second way Davis works through his issues is by literally demolishing things in his life, ranging from simple objects like his leaky refrigerator to much larger things like his office computer and the communal workplace bathroom stalls. He does this because his father-in-law Phil (FIL, Phil, get it?) played by the excellent and under-appreciated Chris Cooper, tells him that if something is broken, he has to take it apart and see what's wrong before he can fix it. Davis takes this advice to heart and starts dismantling his life to see what's wrong in an effort to understand why he feels like he never really knew or loved his now deceased wife. As Davis destroys more and more things, he grows closer to Karen and even more so with her son Chris, who he lets help destroy his home piece by piece in an epic smashing fashion.

There are a lot of great quotes in "Demolition," big, philosophical types of lines that could have amounted to something more than what we are given here. The narrative of the film lacks cohesion and is unhinged, despite its larger, overarching story. It's missing something for what should have been an engrossing, emotional movie, and that something is really big. The plot is rooted in a metaphor that is both simultaneously under and over explored. What could have been a poignant piece about how different people cope with their crumbling lives and the dismantling of every facet of their existence winds up being a bit too much of a showoff. You can have great performances in a mediocre movie, and this is pretty much what "Demolition" is to the tee. Gyllenhaal, Cooper, Watts, and Lewis are all tremendous in their parts and put on excellent performances, but what they have to work with is faux-deep. It also has pacing issues and feels a bit overlong. We have a sneaking suspicion some of this is intentional to reflect to instability of its main character, but even if this is the case, it still wound up hurting our enjoyment of the final product. Watch this for the performances, not the content.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 51%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
One year ago, we were watching: "Effie Gray"

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