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New Release Review - DEMOLITION

Unable to grieve, a widower finds comfort in destroying things.





Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis



Subtlety has never been Vallee's strong point but Demolition really takes the crumbling biscuit. The epistolary nature of the narrative allows Vallee to lazily dish out character backstory and exposition through the Gyllenhaal narrated letters of Davis. You could listen to Demolition as an mp3 and you wouldn't miss a beat.



Is there a more contentious filmmaker at work today than Jean-Marc Vallee? With Dallas Buyers Club he insulted the gay community by turning a homophobic huckster who exploited the ill health of AIDS victims into a messianic hero. Wild featured Reese Witherspoon as the world's healthiest heroin addict and puritanically condemned female promiscuity. His latest, Demolition, might just be his most egregious, the tale of a widower's 'struggle' to grieve. To paraphrase The Sex Pistols, Vallee specialises in offering cheap holidays in other people's misery.



Jake Gyllenhaal continues his dead eye white guy schtick as Davis, an investment banker whose wife dies in a car accident while the pair bicker over Davis' refusal to fix a leak in their refrigerator. When Davis receives the news of his wife's death, he's relatively unperturbed; in fact he's more bothered by the faulty hospital vending machine that eats up his coins while failing to dispense a pack of M&Ms.

Davis pens a letter of complaint to the customer service department of the vending machine supplier, embellishing it with the backstory of his loveless marriage, and his troubled relationship with his father in law (Craig Cooper), who also happens to be his boss. Late one night he receives a phone call from Karen (Naomi Watts), the customer service receptionist who received his letter, and an awkward platonic courtship begins.

Did I mention that Davis also likes to demolish things? Well he does, taking the advice of his father in law (whose name is Phil; get it? FIL? Yeah, didn't work for me either), who tells him "sometimes you have to take everything apart to figure out how to put it all back together", all too literally. It's a metaphor, and in case you're too dumb to get it, the film spells out in its ever present voiceover that IT'S A METAPHOR.



Subtlety has never been Vallee's strong point but Demolition really takes the crumbling biscuit. The epistolary nature of the narrative allows Vallee to lazily dish out character backstory and exposition through the Gyllenhaal narrated letters of Davis. Everything is spelled out to a degree that the film refuses to function as a work of visual storytelling. You could listen to Demolition as an mp3 and you wouldn't miss a beat.

If you want to get an idea of the dearth of good female roles in mainstream American cinema in recent years, the career of Naomi Watts is a good place to start. For such a talented actress, there aren't too many roles on her CV she could be proud of, but this is by far the most insulting. Her customer service rep is the worst kind of manic pixie dream girl (she's quirky because she smokes pot in the bath!), and her role is merely to service the male lead on a journey he never actually undertakes in this case. Then there's the subject of her name - Karen Moreno. When asked if she has any Spanish blood, she scoffs at the suggestion as though it were an insult. Talk about kicking sand in the face of the all too under-represented American Hispanic community.

And then there's Karen's 15-year-old son (Judah Lewis), who confesses to Davis that he may be gay, solely for the narrative purpose of a dramatic moment in the final act, one that actually adds nothing to the mechanics of the half-baked plot.


Actually, neither Karen nor her boy serve any discernible purpose. Davis doesn't grow; he's a narcissistic douchebag throughout the whole movie, save for a late 'redemption' that isn't remotely earned. Davis is a far more unlikeable character than even Gyllenhaal's Nightcrawler protagonist, who at least didn't take the glee in screwing up people's lives that Davis does. Yet the film seems to view Davis as its hero, and the movie even ends on a freeze frame, as though we've just watched a stirring biopic of an athlete finding success against all odds. Meanwhile, his father in law is portrayed as a villain, simply because he wants Davis to sign a declaration to set up a charity in his late daughter's name. Davis narcissistically refuses to, waltzing in and out of the office with a shit-eating grin. Please tell me there's an alternate cut that ends with Cooper throwing him out of his 50th floor window.
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