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Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
The director of Wild and Dallas-Buyers Club, Jean-Marc Vallée, brings us the latest addition to his critically acclaimed collection of films—Demolition. Opening at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015 Demolition was highly acclaimed on the festival circuit, and was released in New Zealand in April. The film, written by Bryan Sipe, is a recycled ensemble of all the cliché parts of drama films you’ve seen before (there’s even a moment lifted straight from Sean Penn’s The Crossing Guard towards the end). Despite all this, Demolition managed to captivate me from start to finish.
The story follows Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal), an investment banker, living his day-to-day life in the same, lacklustre routine. Made numb by the mercurial nature of society and the untimely death of his wife, Davis falls into a spiral of despair from which the reality of the state of his marriage boils to an unpleasant head.
Vallée submerges us in the plot with a scene between Davis and his wife Julia (Heather Lind). Julia, immersed in an unhappy conversation with Davis who has failed to fix their leaking fridge, is cut short by a dramatic side on car collision that leaves Davis a widower. Unable to deal with his grief, Davis tries to escape his bleak reality by purchasing a packet of peanut M&M’s from a hospital vending machine, only to find that the candy becomes stuck after he has deposited his coin. Understandably distressed, Davis writes to the company’s customer services team and explains his dire situation. Rather than stating that the machine had simply failed to deposit his candy, Davis writes a lengthy letter explaining every event that had happened in his life up until this point.
Karen (Naomi Watts), an employee of said vending machine company, receives Davis’s letters and becomes strangely attached to him. After exchanging numerous letters, Davis manages to track Karen down and so begins a strange but wholesome friendship. Davis also starts an unlikely friendship with Karen’s eccentric son Chris (Judah Lewis). Chris, suffering from societal pressures as a young homosexual teenage boy, relates to Davis’s troubles, and the pair embark on a journey in which they demolish everything in their lives and examine it from within in an attempt to start afresh.
What makes this film so gripping is a foreboding sense of chaos. Gyllenhaal expertly captures a sense of loss within his character and his mixture of sadness, rage, helplessness, and loneliness sets up a nail-biting plot from start to end. When, and if, Davis will “break-down” is completely unpredictable as he approaches life after Julia’s death.
Gyllenhaal’s performance is only aided by Vallée’s vision for the film. As clumsy and metaphorical as the plot is (“if you want to fix something, take it apart”), Vallée is able to produce something that is not only watchable, but grotesquely funny and at times touching. Cinematographer Yves Bélanger’s artistic camerawork is essential to the rollercoaster of emotions that unfold within the plot.
If you’re stuck for something to watch this weekend, and want a film you can’t find at Reading Cinemas, give Demolition a go.