Monday, April 11, 2016

Demolition [2016]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Demolition [2016] (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, screenplay by Bryan Sipe) is a decent enough if IMHO incomplete "small indie piece" about a random New York "suit" named Davis (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who in the opening scene of the movie loses his wife Julia (played by Heather Lind) seated right next to him in the car, driving (they're in the midst of having of a random / routine not particularly intense argument...) in the blink of an eye due to a car accident.  Davis survived said accident without a scratch...

Wow.  Waking-up in the hospital he's informed that his wife passed away.  Groggy, stunned, shocked, he goes over to a random vending machine in the corner of the Intensive Care Ward, small splotches of blood from his now (again, he's just been informed) deceased wife still on his clothes, puts in a $1.25 for a small bag of "Peanut M&Ms" and ... the machine gets stuck.  The receptionist at the Intensive Care Ward simply tells him, "These things happen sometime."

Irritated (and barely standing...) in a haze of many, many, many layers of still undifferentiated emotions, he takes down the number of the culpable vending machine and in the days that follow (in the midst of funeral preparations ...) writes very, very long, obviously _needlessly_ long letter to its owners asking for "a refund."  In the subsequent days, he writes three or four more such letters, never particularly angry, just spilling his guts even as he can't seem to differentiate between the random/awful SUDDEN LOSS OF HIS WIFE (!) with ... losing five quarters in a random vending machine.   Again ... wow.

Why would that be?  Well, that's the rest of the movie.

Needless to say, Davis' gut-wrenching letters eventually get a heartfelt, tear-filled response from a random "Customer Service Rep" named Karen (played quite wonderfully by Naomi Watts) at the letters' receiving end.  Since the culpable vending machine was still a physical device, the company distributing and managing such devices "all about the greater New York area" remains local, allowing Karen, who by the end Davis' fourth letter "knows him" (perhaps far more than she'd ever otherwise want to), to meet him, starting a necessarily awkward, post-awful-loss relationship (of sorts) between them.

I do believe that the necessary clumsiness of said "relationship" that develops between the two is a strength in the film: After receiving the kind of letters that Davis sends Karen's firm, it's hard to imagine a "flesh and blood" person on the letters' receiving end _not wanting_ to "reach out." Yet Karen, of course, has her own life with its own complications -- a 12-13 year-old son (played again quite well by Judah Lewis) trying to figure himself out as he enters teenage-hood as well as an already somewhat inappropriate relationship with her (blue-collarish) boss (played by C.J. Wilson).

Then Davis does not exist totally in a vacuum: His wife had parents, Phil and Margot (played excellently by Chris Cooper and less convincingly by Polly Draper) who had loved her and this dynamic -- Davis' own hazy and complicated ambivalence towards his deceased wife versus the utterly unconditional love that her parents had for her -- is certainly well explored.

WHAT LACKS IN MY OPINION is a strong to say nothing of _credible_ presence of ANY family or friends on Davis' side.  NOW PERHAPS IT IS POSSIBLE that this would be the case.  THERE ARE, PERHAPS, PEOPLE who are SO "DETACHED" from the rest of humanity / the world BUT ... IMHO such people tend to populate Movies (and specifically Hollywood movies) more than Reality.  (I think of the Classic Hollywood film Casablanca [1942] ... think how DIFFERENT that movie would have been if Humphrey Bogart's character, or for that matter "Sam" ... "had moms" ;-).  In Reality, they certainly would have had "mothers who loved them" ... but their mere existence, even "far far away" would have radically changed the story ;-).  I do understand that making Davis effectively a "monad" greatly simplifies the story and that this can work to the screen-writer's / film-makers' advantage.  BUT IMHO it also impoverishes the story's potential.  

In any case in an attempt to deal with both his grief and (as becomes increasingly evident as the story progresses) his now necessarily unresolved / unresolveable issues with his deceased wife, Davis embarks on disassembling all kinds of initially random but increasingly significant objects (ending with his house).  Does this bring him peace?  Different Viewers will have different opinions, but IMHO that he actually embarks on "doing something" which when one finds oneself depressed is the (hardest) first step, he starts "moving" (and progressively _feeling_) again.

The rest of the story then unspools from there ...

IMHO this was not a bad film ... but I do think that it needlessly cut corners in its attempt to tell the story.  As such, the story felt, to me anyway, truncated / incomplete.  Nevertheless, I do believe that the film could give Viewers a fair amount to reflect on and perhaps help them appreciate some of the grieving process of those who lose a significant other with whom they did have a (perhaps necessarily) "complex" relationship.

A (fairly) good job then, a (fairly) good job!

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