Director: Jean-Marc Valee
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts
2 (out of 5) Globes
Grief isn’t the easiest emotion to film, which is to say it’s an emotion prone to cliches: people standing silently before gravestones, group hugs, survivors suddenly breaking down into crying jags, sad staring at random objects that hold obscure significance. Death is a private event, but in movies everyone tends to brood the same way.
“Demolition,” to its credit, includes almost none of these. Its hero, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Davis Mitchell, uses his wife’s accidental death in a car crash to rage hard at the button-down, moneyed life the two had painstakingly created. He doesn’t have the patience — or, seemingly, the capacity — for tears, and we might even think, as certain characters do, that he’s not really human.
There’s a reason for that. “Demolition” succumbs to a different cliche: the grief movie as quirk-a-thon. Gyllenhaal’s Davis spends the initial fallout firing off angry handwritten letters, much like Ben Stiller in “Greenberg” — in fact, exactly like Ben Stiller in “Greenberg.” The only difference is Davis actually gets a response. Suddenly he’s first a pen pal then hanging in person with Karen (Naomi Watts), a consumer service drone at a vending machine company whose wares sometimes get stuck in the coils. (Don’t you hate when that happens?)
We may be trained to detect a romantic spark between them, but the script throws a decent curveball. Instead Davis winds up spending more time with her teenage son, Chris (Judah Lewis), a wild-haired, pint-sized destructo who suspects he might be gay. As Davis grouchily inspires Chris to be himself, Chris teaches the already snippy Davis to further unlock his id, which he translates into eccentrically (and symbolically!) taking apart all of his appliances and gradually turning his tony suburban manse into a disaster zone.