A little patch of off-beat pairings is good for the soul. And who doesn’t love Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts ? Throw in Chris Cooper and a theme about paying attention to our emotions, and we have an adult version of “Inside Out” and “Frozen”.
In Brian Sipe’s script it is easier to block feelings with narcissistic wants like M&M’s, sort of like re-channeling your toddler with treats, than it is to honestly feel and deal with guilt or grief or unhappiness. Jake Gyllenhaal is both inattentively robotic and jive-dancingly free in this film. Getting between the two is our story arc.
Gyllenhaal is , yet again, another soulless, financial investment firm bigshot, who is being weaned in his father-in-law’s ( Chris Cooper’s) company. There is at first an almost sinister aspect in his inability to express any kind of caring. A beautifully filmed accident scene leaves his wife Julia ( Heather Lind ) dead. Stop action images offer us an ER room’s bloody sheets and vacant crash cart.
This is not a traditional comedy, but a film trying to document the struggle some have in finding their identity and their way. Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) follows a number of roads, most of them easy and marked ” Dead End” and ” Wrong Way”. In one terrifying scene, we think he is tricking the teen-age son of Naomi Watts ( Karen) into shooting him in the chest.
Davis verbalizes that he never really knew his wife, and that he didn’t love her. Her image reoccurring in puddles and hazed mirrors contradicts this. What we know is that he doesn’t pay attention ,yet he is self-absorbed with his workouts and in his grooming. He even shaves his chest hair. Oft naked physically on screen, he is never naked emotionally. We even see Gyllenhaal, as Davis, sitting on the john with his toes turned in – retentive to a fault.
In a script that reminds me of “Her” ( reviewed Feb. 2015) in its loneliness and in its obsession, Naomi Watts pays keen attention to a series of self-confessional letters directed at a vending machine company. She is the customer complaint department in her boss/boyfriend’s business. She, as a pot-smoking responder, feels his pain and admires his honesty. They stalk each other and have us wondering if “soul-mates” are made for us to find. The song “Crazy On You” is the undercurrent.
Chris Cooper, as Karen’s father and as Davis’s boss, regrets that there is no word like “widow” or “orphan” in our language to address the loss of a child. ” We need a word for this.”, Cooper intones. Davis sees everything as a metaphor: “I am the uprooted tree”, ” the cold front that collided…”. More letter writing ensues, ” Dear Vending Company, there is something else…” Davis’ self-disclosure is pathetically funny. We know he has caring parents ( they may drive a station wagon), though no friends surface. He believes that like a bad gait, if you wish to fix something, you have to tear it all apart. Here the demolition begins literally with Davis buying a bulldozer on e-bay and taking his shiny, modern home down. Sledge hammers are used with abandon as the refrigerator, office computer and bathroom light fixtures and stall doors are broken down or dissembled. Karen’s son, Chris ( Judah Lewis ), adds another dimension of anger and angst. Friendship is developed, something they both need.
French Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee , who also directed Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”, ( reviewed Jan. 2015 ) believes in redemption and changing for the better. Audiences feel the upward draft, and you smile as you leave the theater. Quirky and ultimately satisfying.