Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) thought his life was pretty good, but after his wife Julia (Heather Lind) dies in a car accident, he finds that things weren’t all what they cracked up to be: he didn’t really know Julia, and he simply overlooked all the things that weren’t right. In his grief, he writes a letter of complaint to a company filling vending machines, detailing not only that his candy got stuck in the machine, but his entire situation. The customer service rep Karen (Naomi Watts) who reads his letter finds herself intrigued and together with her son Chris (Judah Lewis), they starts playing no small part in Davis’ attempt to first destroy, then rebuild his life.
When I saw the trailer for Demolition for the first time, I was very much reminded of this tweet (that I can’t find anymore) where somebody wrote something along the lines of “look, it’s my favorite genre: woman dies so man can learn something about himself.” It seemed the perfect description for this film. I decided to see it despite of this, mostly because Jake Gyllenhaal can do pretty much anything. Unfortunately there really isn’t much more to this film than what you can see in the trailer.
Demolition has a pretty simple central conceit, and it states it pretty plainly: sometimes to understand what’s wrong, you have to take everything apart and only then, when you’ve located the problem and fixed it, can you put it back together again. That’s why Davis destroys his life with increasing aggression. Unfortunately what his attempt misses is that in order to learn something about the problem, you have to take things apart carefully, considering every piece and the role it plays and whether it still fulfills its role. There is none of that here. For a film that seems so simple on the surface, Demolition is excellent at mixing metaphors or not following/thinking them through.
Julia dies, setting the story and Davis’ character growth in motion and never plays a bigger part again other than being a point of contention between Davis and Julia’s father Phil (Chris Cooper) to fight over, only that Davis can then prove that he really did love and understand Julia better than her own father. And anyway, by that time Davis has another woman, Karen, in his life who is only there to make him grow, so Julia really isn’t needed anyway.
The more understandable bonding happens between Davis and Karen’s son Chris. Chris has a lot of pent up anger and frustration and Davis’ quest to demolish everything in his path is ideal for him to let that out. No wonder that he likes to hang out with Davis. This leads, though, to one of the more uncomfortable plot lines about homosexuality/bisexuality I have recently seen: [SPOILERS] Chris tells Davis that he thinks he might be gay. Davis is taken aback at first by the confidence put into him, then suggests he may be bisexual if he doesn’t know if he likes girls or boys (which was great), and then proceeds to tell him that he really should hide all of that until he is able to leave the small town they live in. Chris doesn’t heed the advice, is seen out with another boy and gets beat up so much, he has to be hospitalized. There Karen tells him under tears that she just wants him to be himself. And then we never touch the subject again. [/SPOILERS] Way to send a weirdly mixed message.
At least the cast is really good, although apart from Gyllenhaal, they don’t really get much to work with. And time does pass quickly as you watch the film. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is worth seeing. Well, unless Gyllenhaal’s face and talent are as much of a motivating factor for you as they are for me.
Summarizing: maybe if you’re really bored.