Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, C.J. Wilson, Polly Draper, Malachy Cleary, Debra Monk, Heather Lind
Written by: Bryan Sipe
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual references, drug use and disturbing behavior
Running Time: 101
Date: 04/08/2016

Demolition (2016)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Wreck the Halls

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Only about halfway successful, this quirky drama has fine performances and many moments of appealing cuteness and sweetness, but also suffers from ill-fitting tonal choices and heavy-handed metaphors. The story and themes here are strikingly similar to Alexander Payne's bittersweet comedy-drama About Schmidt (2002), but director Jean-Marc Vallée — whose films (The Young Victoria, Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) are usually pitched at Oscar voters — opts for hand-held cinematography with a grayish, overcast feel, nullifying most of the potential comedy or warmth.

Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) works for his father-in-law (Chris Cooper) in a financial firm, when his wife Julia (Heather Lind) dies in a car accident. Distracted, he tries to buy a snack from the hospital vending machine, which steals his money; he ends up writing letters to the complaint department, telling his entire life story. To his surprise, a woman from the company, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), calls him, having been moved by his letters. He forms a strange friendship with her, and with her confused son Chris (Judah Lewis). He also becomes obsessed with taking things apart, from the household appliances to, eventually, the house. Can Davis get in touch with what's missing from his heart?

The director ticks off the appropriate points on the main character arc, but fails to discover who Davis actually is. Where we should find sympathy for the character's mourning, we're instead slightly alarmed by his behavior. The actors often rise above the material through sheer personality and goodwill, but then the use of metaphor kicks into high gear and the movie leaves us with more message than feeling.

Best Buy Co, Inc.