By: Kevin Jordan
That’s one way to show it.
Pretty much the worst thing I can think of happening is also the premise of the movie Demolition – my wife tragically and suddenly dying. It’s one of those thoughts that flitters through my mind every time she travels for work and she travels a fair bit. How would I handle it? What would I tell my toddler? What in my house wouldn’t bring a flood of memories and turn me into a man-sized puddle? And how would I explain that to my toddler? It’s not a fun brain exercise, but it’s one that I never see coming until it’s already dancing in my skull. So, yeah – bring on Demolition; my wife is travelling again soon.
(Some mild SPOILERS coming up, but let’s be honest – you aren’t going to see this movie because you’ve never even heard of this movie.)
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Davis Mitchell, a successful investment banker whose wife, Julia (Heather Lind), is killed in a car accident. This happens within the first few minutes of the film and for the next few minutes of the film, you will wonder what this movie is actually about. That’s what I did because I’m a plot guy, so I’m always looking for the plot. As it turns out, this movie doesn’t really have a plot – it’s just one hundred minutes of Davis coping with his wife’s death. Essentially, it’s a biography and once I figured that out, I stopped wondering when they were going to get to the point because I realized that was the point. Being a biography, it makes up for a lack of plot with very well-developed characters as well as an exploration into one of the ways in which a person might cope with such a tragedy – by demolishing pretty much everything in sight. Yes, this movie has the most on-the-nose title not featuring a superhero.
Of course, he doesn’t just start demolishing everything right away. He starts with appliances and doors, then moves on to bigger things, which I won’t spoil for you. But before any of the demolition begins, he tries to buy a candy bar out of a vending machine at the hospital (after his wife dies) and the candy bar gets stuck. It’s definitely the kind of kick to the balls that life gives to a person when said person doesn’t think life can suck any worse. Anyway, Davis decides to write a complaint letter to the vending machine company and includes a detailed accounting of his wife’s death, among other things. The customer service who receives the letter is Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) and she finds it so heart-breaking that, after a couple more letters from the grieving widower, decides to give him a call. I’m not sure this qualifies as your typical rom-com meet-cute, but then this isn’t a rom-com and it’s one of the most depressing meet-cutes in the history of movies.
Karen is a single mom who likes smoking pot, has a 15-year old son, Chris (Judah Lewis), and is dating her boss. Also, Karen is a little crazy, which becomes obvious well before you learn any of those things. She’s probably the opposite of the kind of person that Davis should be hanging out with, but it seems to be helping both of them. As Davis ramps up the destruction, he also forms a bond with Chris, who is your typical disgruntled, angst-y teenager, but with the added bonus of being sexually confused. So, if you are keeping score, that’s three people with serious life issues. Given the title of the movie, you can confidently assume there’s going to be some kind of blow up involving the three of them, but I can confidently tell you it’s not what you think. Like I said, this isn’t a rom-com, so the blow-up isn’t the misunderstanding event that is standard to those films.
After watching the film, I realized that film schooling would have been really helpful for analyzing this particular movie. It’s obvious that the director and writer filled this movie with more symbolism than a Dan Brown novel, but I’m sure I missed at least half of it. I did manage to catch things like flickering lights early in the film (Davis’ mental state), Davis moving forward through a crowd while everyone in the crowd was moving backwards (no explanation required), and, of course, the obvious metaphor/literal demolition of everything in his life. But, what I don’t think I can explain well (at least without a minimum of one more screening) are the memories of his wife that we see scattered throughout the film. Not one of them felt superfluous or pointless and all of them manage to affect the viewer as if we are Davis. It’s really good filmmaking like that which allows me to enjoy a plotless movie.
I’m usually not a fan of biographies, but I found myself very content when the film was over. While I think they dropped the ball a bit on Karen at the end, I do think it was a pretty solid movie. It quickly dawned on me that I never realize how much I need movies like this until I’m actually watching one (a good one, I mean). I love action flicks, but it’s nice watching a well-made movie every once in a while that doesn’t leave my ears ringing and my eyes wobbling. Of course, the downside of this particular movie was having my brain start dancing again during the drive home.
Rating: I’m not sure the film is worth a theater screening, but I don’t think you should ask for any money back if you give it a shot.