Jean-Marc Vallee has been on a roll, with Oscar-nominated films such as The Young Victoria, Wild and Dallas Buyers Club, but with Demolition he takes an awkward step sideways.
Vallee has an eye for casting, and in Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts again pulls together an impressive cast, who in this case do their best with the flaky material on offer. An exercise in grieving, Demolition is a black comedy, at times overwhelmed by its contrived drama.
It's the story of a Wall St investment banker who experiences a life-changing event and realises he's a soulless twat. On their way to work, Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) and wife Julia (Heather Lind) have a car crash. Julia dies but Davis walks away without a scratch and with a hankering for M&Ms.
When the hospital vending machine doesn't work, he writes a confessional letter in the guise of a complaint to the vending machine company.
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Overwhelmed by the honesty in the letter, vending machine customer service officer Karen (Watts) stalks Davis until they begin a cathartic friendship.
As the title suggests, Davis decides to take everything in his life apart to examine it from within, including his dripping fridge, his computer and his house. When he sets about destroying his modern designer house it seems pointless, but when he starts smashing his dead wife's belongings, it's a step too far.
As it turns out, what he was looking for - the clue about the state of his marriage - could have been found by opening a draw.
Gyllenhaal is well cast as Davis, able to deliver preppy mixed with a flavour of "losing-the-plot", and makes us care just a little about what happens to an unsympathetic character.
Naomi Watts is her competent self as pot-smoking Karen, but her character has the least flesh on it. The sub-plot involving her son, Chris (Judah Lewis), a teenager confronting his sexuality, who becomes close to Davis, provides the most honest relationship in the film, with an interesting juxtaposition between a kid accepting of himself and an adult who doesn't know who he is.
Demolition is an offbeat exercise in grieving filled with characters who like to make grand gestures. There are genuine, moving moments and some hilarious ones but overall it tries too hard to put a new spin on an age-old topic.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Running Time: 99 mins
Rating: M (Offensive language, sexual references, drug references)
Verdict: Great cast but a strange mix of drama and comedy strangles this film.