Playing Catch Up With The Films of 2016: Demolition (dir by Jean-Marc Vallee)


Jake Gyllenhaal is owed an Oscar.  We all know that.  He should have been nominated for Nightcrawler and, even more importantly, he should have won.  However, for whatever reason, the Academy snubbed him.  Ever since then, we — and by “we,” I mean “me” but “we” sounds better — have been waiting for him to get another nomination.

Last year, for instance, we thought he would be nominated for Southpaw.  Then the movie came out and it turned out to be not that good.

This year, we thought it would be for Demolition.  Then Demolition came out and it turned out to be worse than Southpaw

And really, it shouldn’t have been.  Demolition was directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, who was rightly acclaimed for his work on Wild and Dallas Buyers Club.  Not only did it star Jake Gyllenhaal but it also featured Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper!  I mean, how could you go wrong with all that talent?

But the thing is, Jean-Marc Vallee may have directed Wild and Dallas Buyers Club but also directed the wildly uneven The Young Victoria.  Naomi Watts is a great actress but it’s rare that she gets truly great parts.  Chris Cooper can be great but he’s usually at his least subtle whenever he’s playing a suit-wearing authority figure.  As far Jake Gyllenhaal, he is an actor who was born to play eccentric outsiders.  Whenever he has to play someone who is “conventional,” he can seem miscast.

Now admittedly, Davis Mitchell is only “normal” for a few minutes in Demolition but, for the film to work, you have to believe that he was once a successful investment banker who made a lot of money, lived in the suburbs, and never questioned anything.  Since you never believe that Jake Gyllenhaal could ever not be eccentric, it’s hard to be shocked when Davis starts destroying houses and dancing in public.  Everyone else in the movie is so shocked to discover that Davis had an eccentric side but we’re not because he’s played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

The reason why Davis is acting so strange is because his wife has just died in a horrific auto accident.  Now that she’s gone, Davis finds himself wondering if he ever loved her and questioning his entire life.  What little joy he gets comes from helping to tear down houses and corresponding with Karen (Naomi Watts).  Karen works for a vending machine company.  When the hospital vending machine didn’t give Davis the candy that he paid for, he wrote a long letter to the company and explained that his wife has just died and…


See, this is one of those films that is so relentlessly quirky and full of scenes that are supposed to be profound and thought-provoking that it’s kind of a drag to actually try to describe the film’s plot.  I mean, it actually kind of ticks me off to think about all of the contortions that Demolition goes through in its attempt to convince us that it actually has something important to say.  (I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t based on a Nicholas Sparks novel.)  It’s one of those films that obviously has the best of intentions but it’s so overwritten and overdirected and overly portentous that anyone who has ever had to deal with depression will get annoyed with the simplified and shallow way that Demolition deals with it.

Demolition was supposed to be an Oscar contender last year but it’s release date got moved back and I can understand why.  The movie’s a mess.

Here’s hoping that Jake Gyllenhaal gets a great role next year!

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