Jake Gyllenhaal explores the odd side of grief.
Don't let Jake Gyllenhaal's baby-faced good looks belie his unique ability to get dark (think: "Nightcrawler"). In his new film, "Demolition," he propels awkwardly funny material to the level of wildly compelling.
Gyllenhaal plays Davis, a successful investment banker who loses his wife in a car crash at the onset of the film. His reaction to her loss is not what one would expect from a grieving husband. Unable to muster tears, Davis finds solace in writing a complaint letter to a vending machine company during his wife's wake.
In doing so, he attracts the attention of the company's customer service rep, Karen (Naomi Watts) who finds his overly specific and personal letter sadly startling. She's so moved by the outpouring that she calls Davis in the middle of the night. In the meantime, his father-in-law, Phil (the wonderful Chris Cooper) becomes wary of Davis' odd and erratic behavior.
Seems Phil had given Davis some advice in the past about fixing things by deconstructing objects and getting to the heart of the problem. Davis decides to heed that advice, beginning with his leaky refrigerator. Soon he's hell-bent on taking apart anything bothering him piece by piece. Suddenly, discovering what objects look like on the inside become a metaphor for his condition. Therapy, perhaps? Most definitely.
Director Jean-Marc Vallee ("The Dallas Buyers Club") cleverly balances insanity with grief in this film rife with spontaneity. Most of the film's appeal lies in the bond Davis forges with Karen's 12-year-old son, Chris (the remarkable Judah Lewis). Like Davis, Chris is struggling with who he is and the duo are hilarious as they embark on a journey of destroying objects by any means possible. Forget about picking up the pieces.
We can't help but like Davis, as flawed as he is. And it's the sheer genius of Gyllenhaal's performance that puts us there. "Demolition" is a brilliant film about going off the deep end and treading water as best we can. And, sometimes, we make it to the sunny surface rejuvenated and unscathed.