A few weeks ago I read an eight-year-old old draft of Bryan Sipe‘s Demolition (10.8.07). 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 a bit too self-consciously quirky — just a little too precious. But the movie reps a significant upgrade of the material, and credit for this, of course, goes to director Jean-Marc Vallee.

Last night I saw Demolition at the Prince of Wales. The fact that Fox Searchlight won’t release until next April has stirred curiosity about what’s wrong with it — why bump it out of award season? The answer is “who knows but it’s not half bad.”

As indicated, it’s 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.

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 generally supplies a more sophisticated feeling than Vallee’s Wild or Dallas Buyer’s Club had.

A lot of stuff gets taken apart and trashed and sledge-hammered in a kind of acted-out metaphorical 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. I suddenly got angry as I said to myself, “What kind of shit is this? 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?”

That aside, Demolition isn’t half bad. You don’t have to call it an award-season thing if you don’t want to, but there’s nothing very wrong with it, and a fair amount of it that “works.”