'Demolition' is Half a Great Movie

Ensign Lestat's Film Log, 23/07/2016

'Demolition' is a quintessential Hollywood drama - a man loses his wife and suddenly life seems pretty pointless. It is wonderfully on point, yet dramatises the only way Hollywood knows how - by being larger than life.

Jake Gyllenhaal, in the lead as Davis, is the kind of man who has found himself thrust into things. He's been emotionally closed off, but his heart doesn't know where to go once his wife Julia dies right next to him in a car accident.

The initial conceit of the film is Davis using his complaint letters to a vending machine company as an outlet to work out his grief. It is at once laughable, yet touchingly real. These first few scenes felt far more authentic than the highly-lauded, award-winning George Clooney-starrer 'The Descendents', a film that explored a similar subject-matter, with far less gravitas or emotion.

A bright spark enters Davis' life in the form of Karen (Naomi Watts) and especially Karen's son, Chris (Judah Lewis). He forms an unlikely partnership with young Chris and the two of them try and re-discover life together.

There's a lot going for this film, not least its subtle deconstruction of grief following the loss of a loved one so suddenly. Jake Gyllenhaal is a brilliant talent who is effortless as the struggling Davis. He is an everyman dealing with a real situation. The way his face grimaces into a desperate cry only to go back to normal when he's interrupted is phenomenal. I'm not sure if such a little film will be recognised during Awards season, but I think his performance, at the very least, should.

I like the fact that he doesn't start a romantic relationship with Karen - it's too far-fetched and cliched. It's more realistic that she keeps him at arm's length, but feels enough sadness for him that she engages him in conversation. Her own struggles with being a single mother with a not-so-great boyfriend and a fractious teenager comes across from time to time. Karen doesn't get built up too much, unfortunately, falling by the wayside as Chris gets more personality.

Chris' storyline as well, is unique and unusual. Not too many Hollywood films with A-listers go down that route. [SPOILERS: Chris has an inkling he's gay and discusses the same with Davis, who is completely unfazed by this confession. I was also pleased that the writer allowed Davis to entertain the thought that Chris might also be bisexual; far too much popular media are guilty of bi-erasure. This exploration, of course, leads Chris to get beaten up - something commonplace in films, but I can imagine it is more than a little realistic. I'm glad they decided to explore this side of adolescent sexuality in the film, as not enough people see themselves or their struggles represented in cinema. END SPOILERS]

I felt half this film was great, while the other half was trailing behind. I preferred Davis' struggle with grief and the exploration of the same, as opposed to him finding an ideal friend and a child to rediscover hope with. Those things felt too Hollywood.

[SPOILERS: What bothered me most was that it wasn't enough that Davis had just tragically lost his wife, he had to find out that she was having an affair, and had aborted the child from that affair. It seemed like additional and added salt to a deep wound, one that this particular character - as ineffectual and closed off as he was, didn't deserve. He loved his wife, maybe not in the way his wife or her parents wanted him to, but that's something the two of them could have been shown to be talking about - it would have added a better dynamic to their relationship than this ham-handed attempt to run her character into the mud. END SPOILERS]

This film is a melancholic journey which ends with a tinge of hope. It is marked by wonderful performances and half a good script. Worth a watch, for sure.


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