We each have our own paths when it comes to loss. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Demolition explores, in a way, the liberating powers of grief. When confronted with the numbness after the sudden and tragic death of his wife, Davis Mitchell acts out by becoming himself for the first time in 10 to 12 years. He destroys things — clocks, refrigerators, bathroom stalls, entire homes — in order to find out what’s underneath, find out how things work, and somehow find out how his own heart works by demolishing it and putting it back together piece by piece.
In this pursuit, he seeks the company of Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), a customer service representative for a vending company responsible for a vending machine that refused to cough up a package of M&Ms in the hospital after Davis’ wife died. He gets involved her life, and in the life of her son, Chris (Judah Lewis), a 15-year-old kid trying to come to terms with his own sexuality. Chris is going through a journey, too, and realizes that he also has to destroy himself in order to see what’s underneath so he can put himself back together properly.
Demolition is a heartfelt film, but it’s also surprisingly warm and frequently very funny. Grief is not supposed to be comic fodder, but that’s what’s so exhilarating about this film. Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyer’s Club, Wild), working from a remarkable script from Bryan Sipe, finds the exact right tone, settling in somewhere between Palahniuk and Jason Reitman. Gyllenhaal also continues his brilliant work in a role that easily could have been maudlin, but he finds the poignancy, grace, and humor in figuring out how to move on.
Demolition is offbeat, strange, and strangely moving for a film about dealing with grief. It bypasses all the Kubler-Ross model stages of death and settles in on numbness. After pulling off the armor, however, there’s a sweetly beating heart underneath the wreckage.