From the Archives: Demolition review

From the Archives: Demolition review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

It’s not until we exit an era that we can really categorize it. We all know what a 90s action flick looks like now, but at the time it was just an action flick. Upon watching Demolition, a film which would have had a warmer reception had it existed 15 years ago, I now have a clear picture of a previously unlabeled genre: the 2000s novelty drama. I’m talking about Little Miss SunshineGarden StateThe Weather ManShopgirlLost In Translation – basically every post-American Beauty smirk-fest that preyed upon our social desire to both be a cool, misunderstood outcast as well as a part of the crowd (to be fair, I enjoy every movie I’ve listed above except for Garden State, which is the cinematic equivalent of a dry heave). Demolition is trying very, very hard to be one of these movies, and despite a promising start, it ultimately fails. This is partially due to the fact that it’s stylistically out of touch, but mostly due to the fact that it’s so ethically murky that it keeps  the viewer at a distance. Even the most cynical drama requires an anchor of warmth, but there is none here.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Davis, a successful investment banker who, despite living a life of material wealth and privilege, is devoid of emotion. Even when his wife is killed in a car accident, one in which he himself survived without a scratch, he can’t seem to figure out how to feel any sort of way about it. Immediately after learning of her demise, he attempts to purchase M&Ms from a hospital vending machine, and the candy gets stuck. Davis decides to write a letter to the vending machine company explaining his plight in excessively frank detail. These letters take the form of a voice over, and feel like they’re ripped from a novel written by a high school-aged Nick Hornby wannabe. On the receiving end of these letters is Karen (Naomi Watts) who could best be described as a manic-pixie-single-mom-with-problems. The two form a fast friendship, complete with her son, a troubled stereotype named Chris (Judah Lewis). Chris likes rock & roll and lighting firecrackers and saying the F-word and SHUT UP MOM! Meanwhile, Davis’ father in-law (Chris Cooper) is growing increasingly distraught with Davis’ grieving process

Despite the overbearing novelty of the first act, there’s solid groundwork here for an interesting exploration of grief. Unfortunately, the second act, in which we really see Davis’ life crumble, does the story no favors. We very quickly burn through any goodwill afforded to Davis by his misfortune, and even though Gyllenhaal puts in a strong performance, the script gives him nothing. By the time Davis nears the “redemption” phase of his arc, I wasn’t rooting for him to achieve it. He doesn’t deserve it. Call me old fashioned, but anyone who puts on a bulletproof vest and lets a 12 year-old kid shoot him in the chest “just to see if I can still feel, man” isn’t really deserving of sympathy … especially after feeding said 12 year-old beer. image3

That said, the final moments of the film come together nicely, and Gyllenhaal does backflips to make it all work. It’s a shame such a challenging performance is at the heart of such a muddled movie. There are moments of humor reminiscent of David O. Russell’s early work, as well as instances where intriguing notions about what it means to feel come to the surface. But where a good movie would engage these moments, and a decent movie would at least circle them, Demolition chooses to scowl at them, asking the crowd “aren’t I such a badass?”

No. You’re just a jerk.

Demolition opens in Philly theaters today.

Official site .

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