Glasgow Film Festival: Tiresome drama from the usually reliable Jean-Marc Vallée, with Jake Gyllenhaal
In consecutive years, Jean-Marc Vallée has directed Matthew McConaughey to an Oscar win in Dallas Buyers Club and Reece Witherspoon to an Oscar nomination in Wild. Teaming Vallée with Jake Gyllenhaal after his brilliant performance in last year’s Nightcrawler must have seemed like a sure-fire bet for awards recognition. But, after being unveiled at 2015’s Toronto International Film Festival, Demolition failed to make any critical shortlists, and the reason is now clear: it’s a dreadfully earnest look at bereavement that exhibits many of the clichéd traits of Hollywood at its worst.
After the death of his wife Julia (Heather Lind) in a car crash, New York investment banker Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) begins to act erratically. He risks his job by refusing to participate in the plans of Julia’s father Phil (Chris Cooper) to set up a scholarship trust in her memory, and instead turns his energy towards taking apart objects (fridges, clocks, toilet cubicles) and even ends up paying to join a blue-collar demolition crew as they dismantle derelict houses. Davis’ grief leads him to write an angry letter to a vending machine company when he unsuccessfully tries to get a bag of sweets from one of their products, but his letter falls into the sympathetic hands of customer service operator Karen (Naomi Watts), who forms a healing friendship with him.
Karen’s teenage son Chris (Judah Lewis) has sexual orientation problems to add to the stew of issues that are ticked off here, but never developed in any meaningful way. Writer Bryan Sipe is also responsible for this year’s laughable Nicholas Sparks adaptation The Choice, and his script for Demolition is similarly trite and shallow. The cutesy ending suggests that the film’s heart is at least in the right place, but the tiresome histrionics and uniformly overwrought performances end up doing nothing but taking a wrecking ball to the considerable reputations of all concerned.
Screening on Mon 22 and Tue 23 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2016. General release from Fri 29 Apr.