In Oscar-nominated director Jean-Marc Vallee’s most recent feature Demolition, he explores the literal and metaphorical breaking down and rebuilding of a man’s life. In a somewhat disjointed, but beautifully so, dramatic comedy about post-traumatic stress, the film leaves you feeling existential but a little happier.
The plot follows investment banker Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) who begins to write a series of complaint letters to a vending machine company, highlighting one of their malfunctioning machines that he attempted to use in hospital the day his wife died following a car accident. When Davis receives a phone call from Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), the company’s customer service representative, they begin to form a dysfunctional friendship. Karen finds Davis and his past unequivocally interesting, and he finds a kind ear in Karen that helps him to deal with his grief. Overtime, David forms a friendship with Karen’s foulmouthed son Chris (Judah Lewis), also. As Davis begins to find out more and more things about his past and his late wife, Chris helps him to rebuild his life, by demolishing it completely and starting again.
Gyllenhaal gives yet another knock out performance as a neurotic grieving husband who’s questioning his past and his present existence. Though his character seems a little bit like another numb minded Wall Street banker off the Hollywood chopping block, he gives his best to make him something a little more special and adds a pleasing quirk to what could have been another hollow leading man. Another great performance comes from Judah Lewis. Seeing as this is his first feature film, he carries a lot of scenes alongside Oscar-nominated Gyllenhaal and Watts with ease. Unlike Gyllenhaal, he does have a more complex and progressive character on the page that he wonderfully brings to the screen. I’d expect to see some good work from him in the future.
Overall, the film does seem a little disjointed, which is ironic considering its title. Whether this was intended or not, we flit between the letters of grief and catharsis that Davis writes to Karen and their personal relationship. Again, unclear in its nature, just when you think they are going to become romantic, they’re just friends again which doesn’t necessarily come as a let down, but it feels like an gratuitous build-up with no pay-off.
Despite its pitfalls, Demolition is thought-provoking. It leaves you with many questions about happiness and life fulfilment, but it doesn’t leave you feeling depressed. It achieves a happy medium. You’re left thinking but happy doing so.
Written by Heather Thornton