SXSW Film Review – Demolition
Let’s just start with this. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of this film other than it starts with a “D.” Is it Desolation, Destruction, or Devastation? No, it is actually Demolition, but I have to keep checking on the name to make sure. It is basically just become the Jake Gyllenhaal and Jean-Marc Vallée film that I saw at SXSW.
Demolition revolves around the life of Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) after he loses his wife in a car accident. Like any other normal man who goes through this, he might be sad and distraught. However, Davis is not sad. He feels nothing. Our first clue that he might not be dealing with this event quite the same as others is when he starts fake crying in a mirror and abruptly stops. He surprises everyone when he goes back to work and seems to have no problem resuming his life as if nothing has happened. This all comes as a shock to his father-in-law and boss, Phil (Chris Cooper), who is plainly miffed at Davis’ reaction.
The only inkling that Davis is not alright is that he starts writing letters to a vending machine company after he loses his money to a machine in the hospital. These are not normal complaint letters, but those that give background to his life and his lack of feeling anything. Several of these letters are written, and Davis is using them as a coping mechanism. He is surprised when a customer service representative, Karen (Naomi Watts), calls him and asks about the letters. This begins a cat and mouse game as Karen and Davis are curious about each other. Eventually they strike up a friendship that leads to him spending time at her house with her son, Chris (Judah Lewis).
This is an odd drama with some comedic moments. The basis of the entire film is a guy who can’t connect with those around him, even his deceased wife. He is learning to feel again. Something Phil says worms its way into his mind, which is basically if something is broken, take it apart. Davis takes this in a literal sense and his pathway to becoming whole again is taking things apart. This includes everything from a squeaky door to his entire house. It is an obsession of sorts and he starts taking his life less seriously than before.
Jake Gyllenhaal will always be one of those actors that I don’t mind seeing in any film and in any genre. He is made for roles like Davis. He does a blend of comedy and drama really well. You can see his mind ticking, even though you have no idea what its motivation is or where it is going. He works really well against Naomi Watts’ quirky Karen and Chris Cooper’s saddened Phil.
I found myself impressed with Judah Lewis as Chris. He steals the show in every scene he is in, whether it is his pissed off teen using the “F” word too much or contemplating his sexuality. He gravitates toward the equally immature Davis, yet sees him as a father figure. I saw Demolition back-to-back with Midnight Special and the performances of both young actors are something to applaud.
Demolition is a wandering journey from complacency to heartfelt emotion. It is not the most put together, straightforward film I have ever seen, but it has enough comedic moments to make it enjoyable. It has lofty ending that tries to tie up Davis’ experience in a bow, but is not so convincing considering everything the audience just went through with him. It is going to be hard for people to identify with Davis, and that is the biggest obstacle to overcome with director Jean-Marc Vallée’s follow-up to Wild and Dallas Buyers Club.