Film Reviews

DEMOLITION

By • Apr 7th, 2016 •

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Gyllenhaal creates a wonderful character and graciously has real chemistry with young co-star Judah Lewis.

Davis (Gyllenhaal) has a pretty enviable life. His wife Julia (Heather Lind) comes from a wealthy family and her father, Phil (Chris Cooper), has installed him in his Wall Street investment firm. They live in an Architectural Digest house in White Plains, Westchester County. It is all steel and has the “no one actually lives here” interiors.

In a sudden and unexpected disaster, Julia dies in an automobile accident. Davis survives without a scratch. To everyone’s shock, he is passive and disinterested in her death. What really bothers him is the hospital’s vending machine. The packet of M&Ms he attempted to buy got stuck. At the wake held at Julia’s parent’s house, Davis slips away to write a complaint letter to the vending machine company’s customer service department. Having taken a photo of the vending machine’s information, he requests a refund.

Davis feels compelled to explain why he was at the hospital and what led to him losing $1.75 in their vending machine.

Contrary to popular belief, if you take the time and effort to write a company, someone usually answers.

Since I am a writer and can touch-type, I occasionally write complaint and suggestion letters. After a cruise I took on a Holland America ship, I wrote an extensive suggestion letter. Not a complaint letter but what I thought would enhance the cruising experience. To my amazement, when I returned for another Holland American cruise two weeks later – which happened to be on the same ship – everyone responsible for some aspect of the ship’s operation came up to me and told me they had read my survey. Department heads had looked up my previous photo I.D. badge and knew what I looked like. The crew remembered my name and we were wonderfully spoiled (though no upgrade on our cabin).

Surprised by Davis’s apparent lack of grief and thinking it is just the aftershock of losing his wife, grieving Phil suggests Davis deconstruct his life piece-by-piece and then put his life back without Julia.

Davis interprets “deconstruction” as “demolition”. And, as a means of purging his past, he starts writing a letter every day to the vending company’s customer service department.

If only everyone could live like Davis does. Phil doesn’t really expect him to return to work and when he does, he seems to be able to do whatever he wants to do or not do. The real world never seems to intrude on Davis’s plan to dismantle and then rebuild his life.

Finally, the sole customer service representative of the company, Karen (Naomi Watts), calls him. By now, Davis’s epiphany to find out exactly how things work, has him taking apart his home’s refrigerator. Julia had complained it was leaking.

After his first “demolition” is left on his kitchen floor, Davis decides to deconstruct the social responsibility to never actually tell anyone your true feelings. On the Metro-North train – which I have taken many times when living in Westchester County nearby Davis – he tells a stranger he never loved his wife.

It’s liberating, especially since New Yorker’s do not care.

New Yorkers are aptly portrayed. Nothing shocks us. When Davis is dancing around New York City without regard for anyone else’s space, nobody bothers him. It’s just not our New York business. We just think you are having a bad drug trip and keep walking past you.

Karen has her own problems. She’s miserable and smokes a lot of pot. She is involved with her boss and her son, Chris (Judah Lewis), is going through that archetypical, anti-everything, teen rite of passage.

The journey Davis takes is too original and fanciful to reveal. He certainly succeeds in the demolition of his material life. He takes Chris along on his adventure and creates a strange, but sincere, bond with the boy.

The resolution should not be so neat with secrets exposed without injury and family forgiveness given so freely. And why weren’t the White Plains police called by Davis’s neighbors?

Jean-Marc Vallée is a strong director used to handling stars. He is surfing on a big wave. DEMOLITION, written by Bryan Sipe, follows Vallée’s WILD (2014) and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2011). Even with the confidence of a first-rate director who likes actors, the role of Davis is tricky. Gyllenhaal, no matter how implausible or radical Davis’s behavior is, completely seduces the audience. This is hard to do, especially when the character is not permitting the audience to feel sorry for someone who just lost their young wife.

Even though Davis’s “come to Jesus” moment is ignited by the death of his wife, Davis’s embracing of nihilist freedom (is there ever any other kind?) and not conforming to what is universally expected, is enviable (though he’s going to need a bigger car to live in).

While Watts’s role is undeveloped and she is sadly not given much to do, Lewis is absolutely terrific. Gyllenhaal works so well with Lewis they should do a buddy movie together. Gyllenhaal gives Lewis the perfect environment to charm the audience. DEMOLITION, with Gyllenhaal’s talent overriding the pat resolution, succeeds in making DEMOLITION a heartfelt, unusual film.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

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