Fox Searchlight Pictures 1 hour 40 minutes R
Although called a comedy drama, this is really a black comedy with a melodramatic twist. Jake Gyllenhaal takes on another tough role, but seemed to have fun at times breaking down all kinds of walls, emotionally and physically. The destruction of everything from a restroom toilet stall to a multi-million dollar dream house, destroying art and shattering glass in the process, will make you cringe. Director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) and Gyllenhaal must’ve had fun destroying multiple locations.
The actor says the humor comes when demolition becomes literal and that’s what he loves about this movie. He says he’s seen situations happen in life where we grieve and we have to change and this character misinterprets what’s happening and gets it wrong. “So he literally tears down his house and everything around him. And I think that’s funny. And there’s a real sense of humor in the misunderstanding of that.”
As Davis, he’s a guy who’s become numb. His life changes when his wife is killed in a horrible car crash before his very eyes. He is devoid of emotion except anger when he doesn’t get the M&M peanut candy gets stuck in the vending machine at the hospital right after his wife dies. WTF! The scene causes nervous laughs because of his actions and reactions too such a minor occurrence after such a major one.
From then on, Gyllenhaal does a good job keeping you guessing whether he’s a good guy or bad guy. Did he love his wife or not? He’s working in high finance for his Father-in-law, played by Chris Cooper. Cooper and his wife, played by Polly Draper are beside themselves with grief and can’t understand Davis’ behavior. You can feel Cooper’s pain.
Director Jean-Marc Vallé helps change course throughout the film keeping the audience curious about Davis’ relationships, especially when he writes a long and detailed letter to the vending company spilling his guts out about everything going on in his life. Customer Service is one woman, Karen, played by Naomi Watts, who reads the letters and reaches out. She’s intrigued with the letters. He finds and befriends Karen and her son, Chris, played by Judah Lewis. The kid is difficult but slowly warms up to Davis.
When Watts read the script, she says she found something “very different, poetic and beautiful about it.” She says Karen is a very different role for her and she fell in love with her character right away. Karen is weird and quirky. You really don’t want to like her but Watts makes her likeable.
Watts describes Davis and Karen as people who need fixing. They develop an “odd relationship.” She says the situation wakes them up and connects them not only with themselves but with each other. Working with Gyllenhaal, Watts says she found “a great sense of trust and freedom working with him right away.”
Judah Lewis who plays her son, Chris, says he felt the same about working with Jake. The young actor says it was “really cool” to be in scenes with an actor who has so much experience. He also made a point of saying that he’s the polar opposite of his character. He plays a rebellious, punk of a kid who you’ll turn out to like a lot.
Is this worth your bucks? It’s an odd marriage, an odd family dynamic and an even weirder relationship between a customer service rep, her son and a vending machine victim. Not knowing what Davis was going to do next and the scenes of the demolition are like watching an action movie of sorts.
There are some funny lines, like being able to order anything on eBay, including a bulldozer to destroy your own house. Davis’ relationship with Karen and Chris are a bright light within a very dark situation. We found the surprise ending a little too contrived. It wraps up the loose ends with some startling details. Is this really a comedy? No. It does show that things don't matter. We still regret what happened to Davis, and what he did to that gorgeous house.