Seeing Jake Gyllenhaal in tears on the big screen over the loss of a loved one is nothing new.
In “Southpaw,” he played a boxer who must start his life over after his wife dies.
But with the actor’s newest film, “Demolition,” out Friday, Gyllenhaal handles grief in a much different way.
He plays Davis Mitchell, an investment banker who’s going through the motions of his work and his marriage. But suddenly he and his wife get into a car accident and his wife dies.
That’s when things get strange.
It all starts with a vending machine.
Still in the hospital after getting the news of his wife’s death from his father-in-law (played by Chris Cooper), who is also his boss, Davis walks to a vending machine to get peanut M&Ms. The candy gets stuck in the machine. Inquiring about the machine, he learns that he has to send his complaint to the manufacturer, Champion Vending Company.
Most of us would forget about the M&Ms and move on to bigger things, like funeral arrangements.
In the middle of the wake, he goes in the other room and begins to write a letter to Champion. But this letter goes beyond his grievance and basically gives us the backstory of his life and why he is relieved that his wife his dead.
Believe it or not, the movie is a comedy, a dark one, but you can’t help but laugh at the things that transpire.
For one thing, Davis begins to get stalked by Karen (Naomi Watts), the customer service rep at Champion who has been reading Davis’ letters (yes, he writes more than that one), and they quickly start a relationship.
Then there’s Davis’ fascination with dismantling things. Realising he has a tool set he’s never opened, he begins using it around the house.
Like, completely taking apart his refrigerator after being annoyed that it leaks (his wife told him constantly, but he never paid attention). That then leads to him dismantling things at work (his computer, a bathroom stall door that squeaks), eventually turning in his suits for construction clothes and paying a contractor to let him demolish houses.
The film, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (“Wild,” “Dallas Buyers Club”), is a fascinating examination of how people deal with grief differently. Though on the outside Davis looks to now be liberated after the death of his wife (and in some ways he is), this “noticing” of the world makes him understand better what he had with his wife and how it’s gone forever.
But to get there, Vallée uses a dark comedic tone that Gyllenhaal excels at but might be hard for audiences to grab onto.
What really brings the film home is the relationship Davis builds with Karen’s son, Chris (newcomer Judah Lewis). Their bond proves that Davis is not made of stone and can care for someone. Though he might have to had go on this journey to fully realise it.
It’s hard to question Gyllenhaal’s choices of roles within the last decade. With such diversity and all-out effort in the parts, he’s giving about as much range as you could imagine from an actor.