Demolition, the new drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts, hits theaters Friday to mixed notices.

Gyllenhaal plays a Wall Street banker named Davis Mitchell, who finds himself completely lost following the sudden death of his wife. Numb to the emotional pain of such a loss, he searches for a new life through “demolition.” At his side to help him through the next phase of his life is Karen (Watts), a woman who develops a connection to him through reading his many complaint letters about a hospital’s defective vending machine.

Demolition Reviews

Critics, by and large, have a degree of respect for what director Jean-Marc Valée (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club) attempted to do with Demolition. But many found the execution of the story about the widower struggling to meaningfully grieve lacking something to make it a cohesive film. Despite the many poor reviews for Demolition, Gyllenhaal’s acting has been widely praised.

Demolition unfolds almost as an epistolary romance, although it’s by no means a conventional love story, especially when Karen’s teenaged son, Chris (Judah Lewis), stomps into Davis’s sight-lines. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée from a script by Bryan Sipe, this is a movie that seeks to defy most (but not all) Hollywood-sanctioned rules, taking its unsteady protagonist on an increasingly erratic journey involving dramatic detours and increasingly unsettling outbursts, culminating in an impressively staged episode when the title comes into floridly literal play.” – Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post.

Demolition is a well-meaning misfire, terribly earnest but unconvincing for all of that. A film more pleased with itself than it has reason to be, it does provide a chance to watch the always-involving Jake Gyllenhaal at work. […] Always an interesting actor to encounter, Gyllenhaal works hard here, but the truth is that Davis is less a real person in despair than a construct in search of a story. There is little moving or even surprising about his tale as it’s presented here, and everyone’s good intentions can’t make up for that.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

“Demolition has the makings of a moving and slightly eccentric drama. Instead, “Demolition” throws random developments at its passive hero, hoping that symbolism will somehow arise. As a result, the movie is simultaneously aimless, contrived and cloying. […] Though generally well-acted, “Demolition” is a case of a character — and not a very likable one — in search of a story. When everything becomes a metaphor, nothing has any meaning.” – Rafer Guzmán, Newsday

“Back to that experiment, the idea of withholding almost all tenderness until the film’s very end. It’s not random: It mirrors Davis’s own journey. He has to break down his life and rebuild it in order to feel something, and it’s hard not to sense that Vallée and Sipe are doing the same thing with their film, presenting pieces in search of a whole. And while these fragments don’t all quite come together, Demolition does close out with a series of emotional bursts that have an undeniable cumulative power and retroactively justify its hesitant, disconnected quality. Amazingly, if awkwardly, the experiment works.” – Bilge Ebiri, Village Voice

Demolition is currently in theaters.