Wednesday, April 06, 2016

“Demolition”– Movie Review

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This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama “Demolition”, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper. 


When a man suddenly becomes a widower, will his mourning drag him down into a life of self-destructive behavior or can he overcome his sorrow?


After Davis (Gyllenhaal) survives a horrific automobile accident, he learns his wife has perished.  Now a widower, he finds himself being forced to face life without her and figure out how to move forward.  As a successful financier who works for his father-in-law, Phil (Cooper), their tenuous relationship is now put to the test even further.  Emotionally a bit ragged, Davis is not exactly in the healthiest state of mind and becomes inexplicably drawn to a life of destruction and damage – whether it’s concerning himself, other people or inanimate objects. 

Phil soon picks up on Davis’s oddball behavior – dismantling fixtures in the men’s room at their office, taking apart a leaking refrigerator at home and working (for free) with a demolition company in order to take down a neighborhood house where a rebuilding project is set to commence.  What little trust Phil may have had left in his one time son-in-law is now out the window.  Instead, Phil starts a scholarship fund in his daughter’s name and tries to get Davis involved so he can have some say in how his late wife will be remembered; Davis, however, appears less than fully committed to the idea.

When at the hospital awaiting word on his mortally injured wife, Davis has an unsatisfactory encounter with a vending machine.  This leads him to an obsession where he writes to the customer service department of the company that rents out the vending machines; eventually, he hears from their customer service representative Karen (Watts), with whom he develops an epistolary relationship.  Eventually, this leads to their meeting – an unfortunate one because she’s in a relationship with the owner of the vending machine company and Davis is forced to mentor her troubled adolescent son.  Will these experiences lead to further pain for Davis or can he use them to find his way out?


It is arguable whether or not “Demolition” is intentionally overwrought – but overwrought it most definitely is.  Clearly, the movie is trying to show how difficult a mourning period can be after the loss of a loved one, but Davis is such an unsympathetic character that it gets increasingly difficult to muster very much compassion for him; this is due not only to the odd behavior he exhibits but also because of what viewers learn about him through the course of the film.  There have long been imperfect protagonists, but Davis is more imperfect than some others.

Problems with the script include dramatic contrivances and convenient coincidences that challenge the audience’s ability to suspend disbelief.  Among the conceits is the use of letters (yes, that’s actual letters, not e – mails or Tweets or Facebook posts) to the customer service department of the vending machine company; this is done for two reasons – one, to provide us with a bit of backstory about the protagonist and the other, to set up the potential romantic involvement with Karen.  This is not easy to pull off because it’s so obvious it’s hard to ignore the attempt to hoodwink us all. 

The movie played at this year’s South-By-Southwest festival and was well-received, winning The Audience Award.  Gyllenhaal’s performance has also garnered positive reviews, despite the fact that it dances precariously close to the border of chew-the-scenery before a subsequent scene reins him.  Moments where Davis is seen destroying things are certianly intended to illustrate how he can be in control of destruction as a reaction to his own life being destroyed; yet these scenes that are supposed to leave us exhilarated and enthusiastic merely wind up making us feel exhausted and enervated.   

Demolition (2015) on IMDb

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