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Demolition - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

Apparently Demolition isn't for everyone: it's gotten decidedly mixed reviews. Too literal, maybe? Jake Gyllenhaal's Davis, a recent widower, spends much of the movie taking things apart, in his own home, in his in-laws' home, at his workplace. Eventually he smashes his own home to bits, going so far as to buy a bulldozer off eBay. Okay, that part was a little over the top. At least he proved to be an incompetent bulldozer driver and only manages to get it through one wall of his seriously ugly, modern house.

But you know what? This movie really worked for me. It drew me in, if not with its merely decent (but not terrible) writing, then with its highly effective editing and its deeply empathetic performances. We start he movie with the car crash that kills Davis's wife, and are subsequently shown a great many flashbacks. They are always brief, coming in flashes, never overwrought, and feel like the closest thing film can get to emanating the way actual snippets of memory work.

Davis has a peculiar way of grieving. Everyone does it differently, so I'm not inclined to judge director Jean-Marc Vallée or writer Bryan Sipe for being on the nose about his way of "deconstructing" a marriage that he never fully engaged with. We never really get to know his wife, who is now dead, but evidently he never really did either. But he is in a sort of shock and he stays that way for some time, getting release from destroying things. This seems perhaps unrealistic, but who's to say no one might actually respond in this way? Gyllenhaal certainly sells it.

He also keeps writing letters to the customer service department of the company supplying the vending machine at the hospital his wife was taken to, which refused to release the m&m's he tried to buy. This practice serves as a sort of therapy for him, and even though he never expects any response, eventually he gets a call from Karen (a warmly sympathetic Naomi Watts), who is touched by his letters. She even is seen following him. I guess this makes her a stalker, really. There's probably no real-world scenario in which this is okay, but Davis is taken with her immediately, albeit in a platonic way. Demolition never takes their relationship in a sexual direction, which gives it some integrity.

Eventually Davis is visiting Karen at her house. She has a sexually ambiguous son, Chris, played by Judah Lewis in one of the most nuanced performances in the movie. We never get any clear answers about Chris's identity, arguably because Chris himself doesn't seem to have any. He even asks Davis point blank at one point of he thinks he's gay. Davis's response is flawed, but in a satisfying way, because it is also without judgment. Davis and Chris form a bond that is maybe even more significant than the one between Davis and Karen.

There are also Davis's wife's parents. Her father is played by the always-fantastic Chris Cooper, as a man torn between the grief over losing a daughter and dealing with a son-in-law -- and employee -- who seems to be going a bit crazy. Davis's own parents are present but play into the story far less significantly.

In different hands, Demolition could have been far too sappy. It may even seem that way, as it is, in front of different eyes. The script is easily its weakest link, and one could say the script is the most important part -- except it manages to be more than the sum of its parts. There's something to be said for delivery, and in particular, tone. It has some darkly comic moments, and its tear jerker moments as well. Really, it delivers all you could want from a quirky drama, provided you're open to the premise to begin with.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Judah Lewis get literal in DEMOLITION.

Overall: B+
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