We all process grief in our own way: that’s the crux of Demolition, in which Jake Gyllenhaal loses his wife and proceeds to fall apart. I should have been on the verge of tears through all of this, but somehow, I just didn’t care.
Bryan Sipe’s screenplay establishes Gyllenhaal as a man who seems to have everything: a beautiful spouse, a magnificent home, and a cushy job on Wall Street working for his father-in-law (Chris Cooper). But in the wake of that fatal accident he realizes that none of it has meaning. When Cooper tells him that in order to fix something, you have to take it apart and put it back together, his son-in-law takes the aphorism literally and begins to demolish everything around him, hoping that it will lead to some sort of epiphany.
He also initiates an obsessive correspondence with the customer relations representative of a vending machine company that cheated him out of a candy bar while he was in the hospital with his wife. Naomi Watts plays the woman on the receiving end of those letters whose curiosity impels her to respond to Gyllenhaal and get to know him. Her unruly teenage son (Judah Lewis) becomes the widower’s unlikely ally.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives another fine performance here, but because it’s so difficult to understand what’s going on inside him, I found it almost impossible to relate to his character. Without that connection, Demolition keeps us at arm’s length.
I have such regard for director Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) that I refuse to place the blame for this misfire on his shoulders. He delivers everything the script can offer, along with his talented leading actors. I carried nothing away from this movie, and I don’t think it’s worth my time to take it apart.