Jean-Marc Vallée is one of my personal favorite directors. He has created such great films like Dallas Buyers Club, Wild, and the fabulous C.R.A.Z.Y. His most recent film, Demolition, teams him up with the superb Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts, but despite a well-written script, the movie doesn’t quite hit its mark.
Demolition starts out with Davis (Gyllenhaal) losing his young wife Julia (Heather Lind) in a car crash. Davis observes as everyone around him mourns Julia, but he just can’t seem to feel sad. This angers Julia’s father (played very well by Chris Cooper), and it frustrates the audience as well; why can’t Davis feel anything, he should be sad. And I guess this is where the genius of the film is, in showing how complicated and unethical the human mind sometimes is. After encountering a faulty vending machine at the hospital, Davis begins to write complaint letters to the vending machine company; he begins to pour out his emotions in these letters, and he surprisingly receives a reply. Karen (Watts) is in the customer service department in her company, and she was so stricken with Davis’ letters that she decided to contact him; they end up striking a relationship that although awkward at first, turns out to be very touching. But Davis is still a bit frustrated that he can’t feel anything, and so he tries to break down his life (literally) in order to understand; this is where the title of the film comes, from Davis’ raging destruction of his home, his work bathroom, his office, and really anything that he can get his hands on. It proves to be an unusual method of therapy for his grief.
The film starts out very strong and emotional, and it certainly ends with the same strength and precision, however, I feel that both the writer and director Vallée got a bit lost with the middle. it felt like the strings of stories got a bit tangled up and sometimes stirred some unintentional feelings in the audience. I think that the problem was in writing such a complex character; it really boxed the creative minds and didn’t allow for a lot of maneuverability. However, Vallée being an expert director is more than able to guide us to a safe end.
As for the cast I felt that they too got a bit lost in the film, but nevertheless they gave off great performances. Gyllenhaal does a great subtle job at showing how emotionless, yet inwardly frustrated, Davis is. Watts, meanwhile, does a great job and creating her multilayered character who is struggling as a single mother. And then I have to commend Cooper who does very well in portraying a mourning father. But I was most struck by Judah Lewis, who in his first film plays the foul-mouthed Chris who is Karen’s son. Lewis really struck everyone as a veteran actor, who was able to rally back and forth with the likes of Gyllenhaal and Watts.
In the end Demolition is satisfying enough, with an expert creative and interpretive team, and while it got a bit lost in its own complexity, it ends up pulling through.