Movie Review: Demolition

From the acclaimed director of Dallas Buyers Club and Wild comes a quirky dark comedy muddled in both ambition and ambiguity. Led by a stellar performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, and aided by its broad collection of metaphorical undertones and enigmatic characters, the indie comedy-drama of Demolition worked on a number of levels, but also fell under the pressure once the plot derailed itself slowly as the film went on. While it may shield its flawed narrative with classy wit and a foot-tapping soundtrack, Demolition still managed to be another effective independent film from the ever-surprising Fox Searchlight Pictures. 

A man toiled by the sudden death of his wife, and trapped in a subordinate lifestyle as a wealthy investment banker, Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) is in desperate need of a reality check. All of a sudden more aware of his life and its consequences than ever before, Davis embarks on a journey to not only disassemble his already-broken marriage, but also reconstruct his philosophy on life. After igniting a nearly-psychotic list of complaint letters to a vending machine company, Davis ultimately ends up finding an odd savior in customer service rep Karen (Naomi Watts) and her curiously androgynous son (Judah Lewis). What leads to a psychedelic journey of self-discovery and self-destruction, Davis must first demolish his life before he can truly discover it.

Escaping from the always-intriguing Fox Searchlight Pictures, the distribution company behind some of my favorite indie films like the quirky coming-of-age tale Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the phenomenal cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, and the enigma of Birdman, the dark comedy of Jean-Marc Vallée's Demolition packs in the usual display of unique music and screwy characters to deliver an enjoyable and witty final product. Evoking a similar dark comedic feel as Birdman and Dying Girl, offering up a down-on-his-luck widower struggling to regain his sanity, Demolition may not be as expertly-directed as Birdman or as heartwarming as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was, but it did deliver another memorable limited release for a select few to enjoy. Independent films like this, as well as last year's Brooklyn, often give me a certain thrill to see them in theaters, as most of the time they float right by, evading my view, until they hit stores (or Redbox). Offering a much more unique -- and broad -- vision than some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters could ever give you, indie films and others like this that escape the biggest film festivals out there are often some of my favorites of the year.

While the plot may twist and turn throughout, delivering an almost hallucinogenic ride through the mind of its characters, the cast of the film was one of the highlights of the film. Even as they got more psychotic -- and disjointed -- just as the story did, this small yet powerful cast of characters managed to provide both wit and oddity to a film that felt somewhat depressing at times. Led by Mr. Gyllenhaal, a formidable actor I've enjoyed ever since his youthful role in 1999's October Sky, this odd bunch struggling to find themselves offered up a weird mix of hilarity and inspiration. As for Gyllenhaal, a transformative actor put into a very ordinary -- yet highly whimsical at the same time -- he performed well as the leading man who must rediscover himself. Evoking the playful dialogue of Bryan Sipe's script in his serious yet sarcastic manner, much like all his films, I enjoyed seeing Gyllenhaal bring life to his strange character. While it's certainly not his best role, Gyllenhaal's strive to bring a dynamic and entertaining performance to this flawed character is clearly evident.

Equally muddled in insanity, the rest of the cast performed well -- most notably Naomi Watts, playing a nearly-psychopathic aid to Gyllenhaal's borderline-deranged protagonist. Just as quirky and off-the-wall as Gyllenhaal, Watts' character was both charming and confusing to watch, her morals loose and her intentions hidden behind a mask of a sincere face. While her character never ends up becoming a serial killer or anything like that, Watts' half-baked love interest for Gyllenhaal's lead always came off a bit too strange. While she was undeniably fun to watch, I felt her character definitely didn't earn the same development as Gyllenhaal's did, as if Gyllenhaal's Davis got very much himself. Another enjoyable character was the curiously androgynous son of Watts' character, played by the sparky Judah Lewis. Another formidable performance, especially from a child, Lewis delivered a promising role as the equally-crazed and smart-aleck son of Watts' single mother. Acting as both a friend and spiritual guide of sorts to Gyllenhaal's mentally-unstable Davis, the sardonic chemistry between the two was enough to keep me interested.

Overall, this entertaining indie about morality and discovering the true thrill of life delivered an enjoyable peek inside the mind of a man lost within himself. While it may lack in plot structure and character development, tipping a little too far into the metaphorical by the film's end, the film's intriguing story and whimsical characters managed to keep Demolition from demolishing itself. With a charismatic Jake Gyllenhaal leading the show, and his psychotic antics keeping the train moving, this semi-inspirational indie gave us an interesting mix between therapy and all-out madness.

I gave this film a 6 out of 10, for its enjoyable yet muddled plot, its dynamic characters that managed to keep me both laughing and scratching my head in confusion as they chugged along, and a killer soundtrack that I must find online as soon as possible.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of the critically-acclaimed 2008 film 'Frost/Nixon', as this week on Classics Corner, I dive into one of the best renditions of President Richard Nixon in anticipation for this month's comedy-drama 'Elvis & Nixon'.                   

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