In Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a sleek Wall Streeter who suddenly loses his wife in a car accident. At the hospital, he has an incident with a vending machine; he writes requesting a refund, and uses the letter to explain his various dissatisfactions and his current state of numbness. He ignores the ministrations of his boss and father-in-law (portrayed by Chris Cooper), but he strikes up a friendship with Karen (Naomi Watts), a woman at the vending-machine company who reads his missives.
You can’t miss this work’s central metaphor about demolition. It’s not just the professional and personal aspects of his life that Davis destroys; he also gets into manias and physically dismantles objects. And says things like this: “Take it all apart, examine everything, then you can put it all back together again.” This dramedy could be the male bookend to Vallee’s last film, Wild, that found Reese Witherspoon’s character blowing up her life and rebuilding it by hiking the Pacific Coast Trail (a.k.a. doing something crazy).
But in spite of that obviousness and the story’s contrivances, Demolition has a certain wry, off-kilter charm. Gyllenhaal is a good fit for such works, and his giant sad lemur eyes are an asset here; Watts and Cooper are always a pleasure to watch.
Demolition never earns its pay-off emotions, and like Wild, the taking-apart aspect is more interesting than the successfully rebuilding; both films have disappointing final reels. But movies about previously upstanding citizens suddenly not giving a shit are an underrated diversion. Starts Fri., April 8