Demolition: A different kind of Hollywood grief

Jake Gyllenhaal as Davis Mitchell
Jake Gyllenhaal as Davis Mitchell

Grief, we're told, comes in many different forms.

There's no wrong way to grieve, apparently. Except, of course, there is.

And nowhere is grief more structured than in Hollywood.

There, grief is either a granite albatross weighing the sufferer down until eventually they crack and, more often than not, scream at a coldly beautiful landscape until finally, their artful tears fall, or, it is quite the opposite; it is a fully formed thing from the offset.

This much-seen Hollywood version of grief is a blanket which the sufferer is wholly covered and fully in tune with, basking in their loss while a soundtrack of touching acoustic songs play out as the screen is flooded with a golden-tinged montage of 'better times'; long beach walks, ice creams licked off noses and soft punches on the arm, before realising with a shrug, that of course, "This..." - be it selling the house, finding a new partner, or donating their beloved's cardigan - "...is what he/she would have wanted".

Demolition, the new comedy-drama from Wild and Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallee, then offers neither trope for its anti-hero, Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Jake Gyllenhaal as Davis Mitchell

Jake Gyllenhaal as Davis Mitchell

It's not a version of grief any of the dearly departed would want for their loved ones.

Widowed after a car accident killed his wife Julia (Heather Lind), the young banker is left with a numbness he can't shake.

He's not just numb about his high-flying job at the bank, where his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper) also happens to be the boss, or his covetable home and possessions, he's also indifferent to Julia's death and unmoved by his colleagues and loved ones' needs for him to heal, or at least heal in a way they understand.

The only person who penetrates his apathetic exterior is Karen (Naomi Watts).

As the customer services representative for a vending machine company, Karen receives a letter of complaint from Davis about the machine in the hospital which gobbled his money but didn't give him his goods on the night of his wife's death.

But while he writes about the complaint, he also expands on his life and loss, until eventually his letters become increasingly confessional in tone to the point where Karen and Davis meet and strike a friendship.

Soon, Davis becomes entwined in Karen's life and that of her troubled teenage son Chris (Judah Lewis) who has become cold and distant to her lately.

As time goes on, Davis reverts to more extreme tactics - much to the shock of Phil - to feel again and, with the help of Karen and Chris, to rebuild his life and, in turn, unlock the struggles Chris is going through.

While sentimentality could be rife, Demolition avoids it largely due to the welcome flashes of humour and thoughtful performances from Gyllenhaal and his young co-star Lewis, but it's just a shame that Watts is underwritten.