Sunday 10 April 2016

Movie Review: Demolition (2015)

A psychological drama with comic moments, Demolition delves into a psyche dealing with the trauma of losing a spouse. The film finds fresh perspectives but also veers towards literal interpretations of the grief and recovery process.

In New York City, wealthy Wall Street investment banker Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his wife Julia (Heather Lind) in a car crash. Davis admits that he did not know much about his wife, and he married her more out of easy convenience than any true passion. Now that she is dead, he feels a horrifying emptiness. Davis works at the firm owned by Julia's dad Phil (Chris Cooper), and as he grapples with the loss his performance starts to suffer. He also develops a penchant for dismantling anything around him that does not work perfectly, from his home fridge to the office computer and bathroom stall.

But his real coping mechanism proves to be longhand letters he writes to the customer complaints department of a vending machine company, after a minor mishap the night Julia died. Davis bares his soul in a series of letters, and eventually customer service representative and single mom Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) contacts him and they develop a quirky friendship. Karen is dating the boorish vending machine company owner Carl (C.J. Wilson), while her 15 year old son Chris (Judah Lewis) is dealing with coping issues of his own.

Directed by Jean-Marc VallĂ©e and written by Bryan Sipe, Demolition maintains a low-key stance, where emotions are more bottled up than exposed, and every tentative move towards recovery reveals more points of hurt. The film aims for an eccentric tone and generally achieves it, although Davis' catharsis eventually descends into quite the irresistible and overt urge to break things apart in a big way before he can find his way back to functionality.

With Davis reexamining what his imperfect marriage to Julia ever meant and desperately trying to feel anything, his search for reasons behind items not working perfectly progresses from dismantlement to the demolition of the film's title. It's a unique representation of the search for answers, but Sipe only takes it so far and then appears to abruptly reach the concept's limit.

The interaction with Karen and her son Chris is similarly curious. There is plenty of story potential as Karen grapples with an angry child struggling to fit in, and Davis ponders whether his entire white collar existence was an inappropriate turn towards the wrong colour. But there again the script pauses on the edge of commitment, and leaves the characters in the middle ground where both the future and the past start to look the same.

Jake Gyllenhaal errs towards sleepwalking through the film, his take on emotional emptiness translating into excessive droopy-eyed disinterest. Chris Cooper is more engaged but more predictable as the grieving dad, angrily wondering why it was his daughter and not his son-in-law who died in the accident. Naomi Watts provides committed support, her Julia exuding the physical and emotional exhaustion of a dead-end job, a quite less-than-perfect boyfriend/boss and a troubled teenaged kid.

Demolition is a worthwhile exploration of the space where sudden tragedy reveals more subtle failures. The emotional renovations veer from the more satisfyingly intricate to the less complete but more emphatically destructive.

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