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Film Review

New films: Demolition and The Boss

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Davis Mitchell in this somewhat hard to categorize drama about an investment banker whose wife is killed in a car accident. It’s also a film that sets somewhat conflicted expectations, having been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Wild,” “The Young Victoria,” “C.R.A.Z.Y.”), with a screenplay by Bryan Sipe who adapted this year’s insipid “The Choice” from a Nicholas Sparks novel. The result of that lineage is receiving some very mixed reviews but it worked for me on multiple levels.

Davis is in the car when it’s hit by another vehicle and in the hospital when his wife dies but it rapidly becomes apparent that he doesn’t really appear to be in the moment – or at least not in the way we might expect from a grieving husband. A chance encounter with a faulty candy machine in the hospital hallway begins a series of strangely detailed letters to the vending company, explaining the circumstances of his life – providing an awkward but convenient narrative tool. But those letters aren’t just for the benefit of the audience, in their expository content, they’re also being read by a customer service agent at the vending company and they hit a nerve there also.

Davis begins to deconstruct the things around him, from physical things such as the fridge in his house to the house itself, as well as intangible things like his marriage. He’s fascinated with the things in his life that don’t work and that he’s been oblivious to. At some point this morphs into a study of adulthood and the point at which wonder and curiosity are replaced by reason, pragmatism and routine for so many people. Davis has been successful in his work but detached from from his own life.

When he meets a woman (Naomi Watts) and her young son (Judah Lewis), it may be the mother who makes him feel for somebody again but it’s the boy who helps change the way he looks at the world, as though he’s being reintroduced to the things he’s forgotten as an adult.

I think the film connected for me, as well as it did, as I often work with college students who seem like Davis, having become adults focused on adult responsibilities and having lost sight of the simple but equally necessary things in life like having fun and being engaged. We take them out to a ropes challenge course and they often, quite literally, comment that they haven’t had fun like that or let their hair down since they were kids. Davis, similarly, had lost sight of everything around him that wasn’t connected to his work, including his wife and marriage, and he had lost himself in the process. It won’t connect for everybody like it did for me – but I thought it was a wonderful deconstruction of life, adulthood, and relationships.


Melissa McCarthy stars as Michelle Darnell in the often funny but never quite cohesive “The Boss,” as a wealthy businesswoman who is convicted of insider trading and imprisoned for it. If that sounds like a Martha Stewart reference, the film itself makes that joke – she’s in that same world but she isn’t Martha. On her release she crashes the life of her ex-assistant and daughter and discovers the movie’s version of girl scout cookies and determines to rebuild an empire on brownie sales. (In the broadest sense, it has some parallel themes with “Demolition” as she reconnects with the world through this pair.) The film is funniest when it’s being extremely crass in ways that firmly secure its R rating and while that restricts children from seeing the film, it’s odd at times to realize that the film itself is full of children being exposed to that content. It’s also funny in the kinds of slapstick moments McCarthy has become known for, although they seem unusual in that several appear to be performed by stunt doubles – like a signature move performed by somebody else. I laughed out loud several times but I also cringed many times at some of the acting and a story that often feels like a series of mismatched skits rather than a well-fitting whole.


About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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