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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

When well-heeled Wall Street investment banker Davis Mitchell's wife, Julia, is killed in a car accident, almost everyone who knew her weeps. Her parents cry. Her in-laws cry. Davis' administrative assistant cries. Even the man whose car took her life visits her grave and cries.

Davis? He sheds no tears.

You see, Davis' union with Julia had all the outward trappings of happily ever after. But in their final, fateful conversation while Julia drives, all they can do is argue about the fact that he hasn't fixed their leaking refrigerator even after she's repeatedly asked him to.

Davis hasn't cared. He hasn't noticed. In fact, outside of the work he does for father-in-law Phil Eastman's investment firm, Davis hasn't really noticed or fixed anything. Including his malfunctioning marriage.

Julia's violent demise, then, has no apparent impact on Davis' life. He gets up at 5:30 the next morning, exercises as he always does, goes to work and casually tells his weepy assistant to reschedule a lunch.

But Davis isn't quite … right.

Now when certain things don't work as they should—starting with that already fidgety fridge, and then also his computer, a squeaky bathroom stall door at work and even a bathroom light fixture at his in-laws' house—Davis develops an uncontrollable, obsessive compulsion to systematically dismantle the damaged doodad to see what the problem is.

And then there's the vile vending machine from which Davis tries to purchase M&M's. When it won't dispense the candy, he writes a letter to the company that operates it, Champion Vending.

One letter turns into two. Then three. Then four. Suddenly, Davis is pouring out his heart to, well, he doesn't know who. Until, that is, Champion Vending customer service representative Karen Moreno calls him one night because she's been so moved by his sad story.

It turns out that she and her struggling 12-year-old son, Chris, are just about as broken as Davis is.

The difference is that Karen and Chris know very well that they're broken, while Davis is still having an awfully hard time admitting that fact—to himself or anyone else.

Positive Elements

An unexpected death can force those who are still living to confront hard realities in their lives. And Demolition tells that kind of story, painting the portrait of a man working through the messy, unpredictable process of coming out of denial and coming to grips with his deep grief over his wife's death and the selfish mistakes he made before her passing.

It's pretty clear that Davis, who tells a doctor he's felt numb for years, hasn't paid proper attention to much of anything besides his high-paying job for a long time. After Julia's death, though, he begins to see things more clearly. He beings to pay attention to things he's never really noticed before.

Even as this awakening begins, though, Davis can't seem to give himself permission to grieve. Instead, he sublimates his feelings of anger and loss into tearing apart broken stuff. This isn't necessarily a good thing—and it's a habit that quickly morphs from constructive to destructive—but the film seems to suggest it's the only way Davis knows how to begin coping. Near the story's conclusion, he does, in fact, break down in tears, and we know that his newfound ability to finally grieve "normally" is a big breakthrough for him.

Along the way, Davis develops a pseudo-romantic relationship with Karen. She's just about as dysfunctional as he is as she strives to raise her troubled boy, Chris, who is still trying to cope with the loss of his father in a bombing in Iraq. So Davis and Karen try, in their own quirky ways, to listen to each other and help each other. And Davis also strikes up an unlikely friendship with Chris, filling a father-like void in the boy's life (even though many of the things they do together aren't wise or healthy, which we'll deal with a bit later).

Spiritual Content

Davis has ghostly "encounters" with his wife, sometimes remembering something that happened, sometimes envisioning her in his current reality.

Sexual Content

A flashback briefly shows Davis and Julia's first sexual encounter. (We see them from the torso up.) And we eventually learn that she went on to have an affair. Davis and Karen, meanwhile, develop a slow-burning connection that's more emotional than physical. She's clearly hesitant to jeopardize her relationship with her boyfriend, Carl, but it's equally clear that she's shares a spark with Davis that she doesn't with her live-in lover. Karen tells Davis that they can't have sex because it would be too "dangerous." (And, in fact, they don't.)

Julia wears a slinky camisole, Karen off-the-shoulder tops and nightshirts that barely cover her backside. Karen puts underwear on under a bathrobe. Davis, for his part, is repeatedly shown from the torso up in the shower, sitting naked on a toilet (from the side) and wearing just underwear in bed.

An adolescent boy at a posh party asks if he can feel Karen's breasts. (She says no.) But it's on the subject of Chris' emerging sexuality that we'll spend the rest of this section. He wears scarves, women's animal-print tops and jewelry. And he and Davis wander into a conversation in which Chris asks how he can know if he's gay. Davis asks who he is attracted to, a conversation that leads to Chris graphically confessing a fantasy about performing oral sex on another boy at school. (Elsewhere, we hear another graphic reference to oral sex, this time between two men.) After that, Davis says the best course of action for Chris is to pretend to be straight until he gets through high school, because, Davis suggests, "You're going to get tortured" for coming out. Chris is obviously disappointed that Davis doesn't encourage him to come out as gay, and he dresses up flamboyantly and goes to a party …

Violent Content

… where he's beaten very badly and ends up in the hospital.

We're inside the car with Davis and Julia when they get hit. Blood is visible on hospital sheets, as well as on Davis' shirt and shoes after he's told that his wife is dead. A man gets pummeled in a fistfight.

Davis volunteers with a construction crew that's demolishing a house, and he goes at his sledgehammer work with violent, reckless abandon. He steps on a nail that goes through his foot. He later invites Chris to help him destroy his whole house. They gleefully shatter virtually everything that's glass in the residence, then begin to tear down walls as well. Davis eventually buys a front-end loader on eBay to try to level the place. At one point in this extreme home makeover, Chris asks Davis, "What are we doing again?" To which Davis replies, "We're taking apart my marriage."

In the process of tearing down his house, Davis comes across an ultrasound image; his mother-in-law later tells him that the baby's father was Julia's illicit lover, and that she had taken her daughter to get an abortion.

Chris blows up a toy tank with fireworks, then uses an aerosol can and a lighter to burn it as he describes to Davis the suicide-bomber attack that killed his father. Much more sobering and scary is a scene in which Davis and Chris go into a forest to shoot pistols. Davis is having a hard time feeling anything, so he puts on a bulletproof vest and invites Chris to shoot at him. The boy does so, twice, with Davis exclaiming each time how great the horrible pain feels. A dream sequence of sorts finds Davis imagining that he's shooting an adolescent at an airport.

Crude or Profane Language

About 30 f-words (including one paired with "mother"). Close to a dozen s-words. Anatomical vulgarities used once or twice each include "a--" and "d--k." Jesus' name is abused twice; God's is mashed up with "d--n" three times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Alcohol (wine, beer) gets consumed throughout. And Davis drinks beer with young Chris. Karen repeatedly smokes marijuana she buys from an elderly dealer. (It's implied that she's addicted to it, and she lies about having a prescription for medical marijuana.) Though Chris smokes cigarettes and drinks, he doesn't think much of his mom's marijuana use, interestingly, derisively labeling her a "pothead." A joke is made about someone being a "crackhead."

Other Negative Elements

Davis may be a father figure for Chris, but he's hardly a good role model as the two drink, recklessly play with pistols and wantonly destroy a house. In a fit of grief and anger, Phil says it's Davis who should have been killed in the accident, not his beloved daughter. There's talk of vomiting and urination.


"Julia was a nice girl," Davis tells his father-in-law, "a good person." Then he adds remorsefully, "I didn't know who she was." And it's true: Davis was so numb, so self-absorbed that he never knew who his beautiful bride really was, what made her smile, what made her tick.

That numbness initially keeps Davis' grief submerged, but the pain still leaks out, sometimes in the way Davis sees reality. "I'm starting to notice things I never saw before," he writes to Karen in one of his early letters to her company. "Well, maybe I saw them; I just wasn't paying attention." Other times, his torment doesn't leak so much as explode outward in the way that he viciously unleashes his raw emotions upon inanimate objects.

There is a lot to like about the way Demolition depicts walking the path of grief as being a messy, unpredictable journey—albeit one that's exaggerated at times here for cinematic and even comedic effect. The film powerfully illustrates that grief isn't a linear, defined process. Rather, that an unexpected loss affects different people in different ways.

But that's not the only thing that's messy in this R-rated movie. Asking a 12-year-old to shoot you, for instance, cannot be thought of as clean in any way, shape or form. And clumsily coaching that same boy to simultaneously embrace homosexuality and obscure it—well, that leaves no hope at all of him healthily sorting through his sexual confusion. And it nearly goes without saying that it doesn't point him to a biblical understanding of human sexuality.

Then there's all that fixing that Davis does. And by fixing I mean demolishing—in so many more ways than just physical.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range



Jake Gyllenhaal as Davis Mitchell; Heather Lind as Julia Mitchell; Naomi Watts as Karen Moreno; Judah Lewis as Chris Moreno; Chris Cooper as Phil Eastman; Polly Draper as Margot Eastman; C.J. Wilson as Carl; Malachy Cleary as Davis' Dad; Debra Monk as Davis' Mom


Jean-Marc Vallée ( )


Fox Searchlight



Record Label



In Theaters

April 8, 2016

On Video

July 19, 2016

Year Published



Adam R. Holz

Content Caution

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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