Demolition Review
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He may be an A-list star, but Jake Gyllenhaal hasn’t had the typical Hollywood career. While he’s ventured into big-budget, mainstream territory (admittedly with some disastrous results), he tends to stick with challenging roles in smaller, often darker (and sometimes downright strange) films. And his role in director Jean-Marc Vallée’s latest, Demolition, is certainly no exception.

Demolition stars Gyllenhaal as Davis Mitchell, a successful young man who once had it all: a pretty wife, a stunning house, a high-paying job in investment banking. But after his wife is killed in a car accident, he suddenly realizes that he’s been going through the motions. He’s been completely numb. As he begins taking stock of his life, taking everything apart just to see how it works, obsessing about minutia, he’s befriended by customer service rep Karen (Naomi Watts)—who, along with her troubled teenage son, Chris (Judah Lewis), is there for him through his downward spiral.

Demolition tells a simple—and some might say too straightforward—story about grief, recovery, and learning to pay attention to the beauty around us. And it’s often presented in the quirkiest and most darkly entertaining of ways. After an incident with a vending machine following his wife’s death, Davis begins to open up in long, detailed letters to the vending machine company—which eventually lead to his friendship with Karen. Without doing a thing, she helps him open up about his life and begin to change. He goes from closed up to brutally honest—and more than just slightly unhinged. And that makes the film more than just thoughtful and perceptive; it’s also surprisingly amusing.

Without a remarkable star, though, the film could have been horribly uncomfortable. The character’s breakdowns and crises could have been painful to watch. But Gyllenhaal gives another noteworthy performance as the troubled young widower who’s riding an emotional roller coaster. Whether he’s robotically going through the motions or he’s gleefully breaking through walls (both literally and figuratively), he’s entirely endearing. He skillfully navigates the character’s swinging moods. And, through it all, audiences may laugh at his antics, but they’ll also fall in love with him—because he’s so adorably damaged.

At times, the film does get a little too caught up in its messages and metaphors, and it loses sight of itself a bit. It’s also sometimes prone to distraction. But Gyllenhaal easily carries the whole simple, sincere story through all of its ups and downs.

If you’re a fan of Gyllenhaal and his unpredictable career choices, you won’t want to miss his latest lovably unstable role. Demolition is a clever, thought-provoking film—and yet another example of this talented actor’s remarkable versatility.

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