Recapping: Jean-Marc Vallee‘s Demolition (Fox Searchlight, 4.8) “is about a youngish, day-dreamy investment banker (Jake Gyllenhaal) succumbing to all kinds of weird, self-absorbed behavior as a way of dealing with his wife’s car-crash death. He doesn’t grieve as much go inward. He ignores his job, grows a stubble beard, becomes enamored of fixing machinery and then tearing things down.
“In so doing he begin to increasingly mystify and then piss off his father-in-law (Chris Cooper). He also slides into a nonsexual but connected relationship with a customer service rep (Naomi Watts) for a vending machine company. She has a somewhat alienated son (Judah Lewis) and a big, suspicious, more-than-a-little-angry live-in boyfriend.
“A lot of stuff gets taken apart and trashed and sledge-hammered in a kind of acted-out, fuck-it-all, let-it-fall-down way, but there’s one demolition scene that really didn’t go down very well with me, and which prompted some in the audience to groan and cry out.
“It happens when Gyllenhaal and Lewis completely wreck everything in his super-expensive home in the New York-area suburbs — furniture, walls, kitchen, music system, 70” flatscreen. “What kind of shit is this?,” I said to the screen. ‘Who wrecks a house like this? If Jake does’t want to live there, sublet it or sell it or whatever. But don’t destroy a perfectly nice house for some petty emotional reason…fuck is wrong with you, man?’
“The settled-in acting never feels calculated or pushed or ‘performed’, and the photography (by Yves Belanger) and editing seem extra-fleet and tight, and the film, to be fair and candid, generally supplies a more sophisticated feeling than Vallee’s Wild or Dallas Buyer’s Club had.
“Lewis has a certain je nais sais quoi ‘star is born’ thing going on. His scenes with Jake Gyllenhaal (i.e., ‘Are you fucking my mom?’) are definitely my idea of X-factor. Edgy magnetism, the camera likes him, etc. As Naomi Watts‘ son Chris, Lewis has a bordering-on-too-pretty thing — longish blonde hair, might be gay. Something about his looks and acting style reminded me of Leonardo DiCaprio between Growing Pains and his costarring role in Critters 3. Lewis’s eyes have a certain ‘extra-alert but masking something vulnerable and uncertain’ quality, and Chris has the usual rebellious, cigarette-smoking, rock-and-roll-dancing early teen thing down pat.
“Whatever ‘it’ is, Lewis has it.
“Last summer I read an eight-year-old old draft of Bryan Sipe‘s Demolition. Though well written and “sensitive” in the vein of American Beauty-ish (i.e., a guy going off the track, ignoring social norms, following odd instincts), it struck me as too self-consciously quirky — just a bit too precious. But the movie reps a significant upgrade of the material, and credit for this, of course, goes to Vallee.
“I nonetheless suspect that Demolition has arrived a little too late in the cycle of grief-recovery dramas. By the same token Kenneth Lonergan‘s Manchester-By-The Sea, which won’t open commercially for several months, is ahead of the curve in terms of dealing with the tropes. Also: The first time a major movie walloped audiences with a sudden CU car crash out of nowhere was Adaptation (’02), which was 14 years ago. I respectfully believe that this dramatic shock tactic no longer works — it’s been done too many times.