With certain directors, you come to expect a certain level of quality, while also acknowledging the fact that not every single film of theirs is going to be a great one. Jean-Marc Vallée is one of these directors. Having brought us such nuanced storytelling and emotionally-driven films like “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild,” Vallée has lost the spark that made the aforementioned films good. “Demolition” tries to tackle a lot of heavy material in a less than effective way and leaves us feeling a little bereft of any stimulating emotion.
After his wife (Heather Lind) dies in a sudden and tragic car accident, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) is left dealing with her death. Except he doesn’t deal. Ten minutes after her death, Davis stalks over to a hospital vending machine and, frustrated that his quarters have gone to waste on a snack that he never receives, writes a letter of complaint to the vending company. In these letters, Davis vents about his life, about his job and his wife. He stops showing up for work and suddenly becomes interested in taking things apart.
Taking an interest in the man behind the letters, customer service agent, Karen (Naomi Watts), calls Davis one night and the two begin a strange, somewhat off-kilter friendship. Davis is wading through his life, having a lot of thoughts, but generally feeling empty about most everything. His marriage wasn’t great, sure, but Davis can’t even muster a single feeling about his wife, tuning out of most anything involving emotion. It’s like he’s in a constant state of being zoned out. This makes him look like a walking, faded reflection of himself. He’s detached and only seems to come to life (barely) when hanging out with Karen’s son (Judah Lewis). Oh, and Davis feels the sudden urge to demolish his home–and his life–and maybe get a fresh start.
Writer Bryan Sipe has a lot of story pieces, but they’re floating throughout the film and never manage to find their way to each other. This makes the film disjointed and Davis’ own disinterest and detachment does the opposite it’s meant to. Instead of feeling sorry for him, or even understanding about this downward slide he finds himself in, we have no emotional attachment whatsoever. The film saves itself from sinking completely with its bits of comedy, Gyllenhaal’s dry delivery often resulting in a few chuckles. But in a movie about a man who tries to find a way back into the life he’s emotionally left, there is no sense of gravitas or proper character development. Gyllenhaal’s character instead comes off as a spoiled child who finds the world and everyone in his life generally irrelevant. In order to cure this ailment, he breaks things.
“Demolition” remains fairly stagnant throughout. Davis doesn’t really care about his wife. At all. It’s disheartening, to say the least. This isn’t a guy who’s lost in life so much as he just doesn’t care about it. Even his father-in-law (Chris Cooper) gives him far more attention than he deserves in the wake of his behavior and insensitivity. Why does Davis want to demolish his home? Why does he suddenly feel the need to take things apart? What does his friendship with Karen and her son ultimately do for him? None of these questions are answered thoroughly and don’t give us any real reason to invest any time or sympathy. Vallée’s film is all over the place, branching off in another direction near the end about Lewis’ character that isn’t significant to the story and honestly feels like another film altogether. Gyllenhaal makes the most of the less than mediocre writing, but this doesn’t save “Demolition” from being underwhelming and lacking in direction.
In a movie about a man who tries to find a way back into the life he's emotionally left, there is no sense of gravitas or proper character development. Gyllenhaal's character instead comes off as a spoiled child who finds the world and everyone in his life generally irrelevant. In order to cure this ailment, he breaks things.