I wasn’t sure what to make of this movie at first. It looked like it was going to be a confused movie that wouldn’t know if it was going to be a comedy or a drama, and my fear would be that it would fail at both. But it was hard for me to tell, as it did have a pretty solid cast. I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s usually great in anything he does. Plus, the same director of WILD? Hell yeah. But still, there was this sinking feeling in my gut that I wouldn’t take to this one. I suppose I hoped it would be good, but ultimately, I went in with mildly low expectations. In any case, I’ve now seen it and get to talk about it. This is my honest opinion of DEMOLITION.
The story follows Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal). He’s a successful investment banker who lives comfortably with his wife, Julia (Heather Lind). However, while the two are driving, they get into a devastating car accident. While Davis survives the ordeal, Julia tragically dies. But Davis seems strangly unaffected by her passing, while Julia’s parents think that he’s just grieving in a weird way. Almost immediately after her death, Davis tries to buy a bag of peanut M&Ms, which get stuck in the machine. This prompts him to write a letter to the vending machine company to complain, including the death of his wife in the letter. Eventually, he sends enough complaint letters that also mention his personal life that catches the attention of a customer service representative named Karen (Naomi Watts) and eventually her rebellious teen son, Chris (Judah Lewis), who all help give him clarity on his feelings toward his wife over the course of the story.
Well, that trailer sure spanked me for not having enough faith in it because this was a damn good movie.
Alright, so like I said in my prologue, I thought this movie would be confused; can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a drama. It’s definitely a dramedy. In the same vein as JUNO, it takes a tragedy and gives the reaction a quirky spin. His lack of emotional reaction to his wife’s death is developed over the course of the story and he does have a meaningful arch with a satisfying payoff, and Gyllenhaal nails it as always. Davis is a likably great complex character.
Watts as Karen is also pretty decent as an equally complex character, but as the story does mostly revolve around Davis, Karen does get a bit side-lined as far as having a character arch as well-developed as Davis. Gotta give props to Watts for acting her ass off though, but the character is sadly one of the more forgettable ones.
Now Chris Cooper on the other hand, playing the character Phil, is one of the other highlights of the film. Here’s a man who lost his daughter and is clearly struggling with it, trying to hold it together, going along with everyday life, as well as trying to honor her memory. Not only that, but trying to understand what is going through Davis’ mind, help him move on with Julia’s death, even though in his mind, Davis is acting out and pushing him away, even cold-heartedly avoiding the situation altogether.
While Watt’s performance may be forgettable in the story amidst the superior roles of Davis and Phil, there’s another character that overshadows her, but not in a good way and is quite possibly the only real problem I have with the movie, Karen’s rebellious teen son, Chris. Now let me get this out of the way really quick, Lewis does a fine acting job. Considering this is his first big role on the big screen (the previous being an uncredited role in POINT BREAK  as young Johnny Utah), he’s actually very impressive playing a character struggling with his sexuality. Having said that, however, this is a character that I’ve seen a thousand times throughout cinematic history. If you really want a good laugh, one of them played by Gyllenhaal in DONNIE DARKO! Yeah, hardcore teens smoke, they blow shit up, they get in trouble at school, they say “fuck” a lot, OH MY GOD piss off you little shit! And there isn’t really a good explanation for his behavior either. Seriously, not one. There’s no mention of a father beating on him or his mom, he’s just not mentioned. Maybe Karen’s boyfriend/boss Carl, played by C.J. Wilson, is abusive in some way, but that would end up being seriously underplayed since Carl is revealed to definitely have a temper, even be violent (not toward Karen or Chris), but not abusive. Though I guess it wouldn’t be much of a stretch in logic. But still, I think that Chris’ behavior suggests he’s been like this for awhile. Is it because he’s confused about whether or not he’s gay? That’s no reason to take it out on his mom. Even if there is an argument out there that would tell me that’s how some teenagers act when struggling with this stuff, the fact remains that it isn’t explored, or explored enough, to warrant much sympathy.
But it’s hard to deny the chemistry between Lewis and Gyllenhaal. When the two share the screen, they have some pretty good and fun scenes together. Hell, who wouldn’t have fun taking sledge hammers to a house and smash shit like a game of extreme whack-a-mole? Plus, I love how Davis is able to convince Chris to stop randomly using “fuck” and to be more strategic about its usage. Those bits of their conversations always tickle me.
By the way, unless I missed it, what was the deal with that station wagon that keeps driving by Davis’ house? Did I miss that revelation? Eh, whatever.
Overall, this was a damn good film, probably one of the best of the year so far. If more development was given to Karen and certainly Chris, then the film would have been great, but even though they drag the film down, they don’t drag it down too harshly. Gyllenhaal and Cooper both deliver great performances and the story has a fantastic, heartfelt resolution. If you’re a fan of Gyllenhaal and quirky dramedies, then I highly recommend seeing this film. I may have only seen it once, but I would love to see it again.
My honest rating: a strong 4/5