There are countless variations on the quote Thoreau made famous about how “most men live lives of quiet desperation.” Some are pretty morose and cynical, some try to be uplifting. But the reality is that yes, no matter how many times we’re told that if we love what we do we’ll never work a day in our lives, many of us are just existing. We can be happy in what we’re doing and our other circumstances, but this isn’t how we’d spend our days if we had options. It’s the lack of options that can be frustrating and which leads to midlife crises and other emotional outbursts.
Demolition is about just such an emotional outburst. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Davis, a guy who’s married and working for his wife’s father. One day she dies in a terrible car wreck and Davis is left adrift. Turning to vent his anger somewhere he begins writing a series of complaint letters to the vending machine company whose machine in the hospital stole his dollar, something that brings him into contact with Karen (Naomi Watts), a customer service rep at that company. That’s just the beginning though as he deconstructs all the artifice that’s built up around him, tearing down everything in his life in the hopes of rebuilding something more meaningful.
I like the quirky attitude of the poster. It’s pretty much just a close-up of Gylenhaal’s face as he wears sunglasses and headphones. But the bottom right quarter of the image is falling out of place, like a piece of a puzzle that’s been removed. In the gap between the broken elements is the copy” Life: Some Disassembly Required.” and so effectively hints both visually and textually at the story of the movie and how it’s about this character deconstructing his life. The title appears at the top and the cast list is at the bottom, with some of the names careening off along with the portion of the image that’s being removed.
The teaser trailer for the movie sets up Gyllenhaal’s character as someone dealing with a personal tragedy – his wife has just died – and is taking it out by writing a letter of complaint to a vending machine company. We then go back to see where he was before the tragedy, which was in the position of a working stiff who didn’t much care for his job and loved his wife, even if he wasn’t sure what that meant. After her death he decides to take the advice he once received to a crazy extreme and physically take apart his life to see what matters and see what can be fixed. That means destroying the house he lives in, tearing down the emotional connections in his life and everything else.
This sets up what looks to be more of a black comedy than a drama. It’s definitely playing around with some sort of sense of humor more than it is wallowing in this guy’s situation. That sense is amplified by the soul music that plays over it, which seems to help the trailer plant its tongue in its cheek more than anything else. It works very well on that level, but I’m curious to see if the actual movie will play around with time like the trailer appears to.
The second trailer sets up a bit more of the story. We get the same basic setup about him being in a sleepwalking marriage and dealing with the fact that he doesn’t feel anything about his wife’s death. This one, though, gets into the other part of the story, which is the connection he forms with the vending machine company’s service rep played by Watts and her young kid.
It’s equally good as the first one but for slightly different reasons. I like the expanded look at the story. Watts only made a small appearance in the first trailer but she’s a big part of this one and that’s very much a good thing since it presents a more interesting picture of the movie than the first one’s sole focus on Gyllenhaal.
Online and Social
There’s a nice little version of the key art at the top of the official website, which for a change does not open with an auto-playing trailer. There’s a “Watch Trailer” button there but it takes you to a player, which is nice.
Scrolling down the site, the first thing you come across is a map and tool letting you search for where the movie is playing near you. After that is a section with a cast and crew list – which links off to the IMDb pages for those folks instead of hosting that content natively – and a Synopsis that gives you a good idea of the movie’s story.
Both trailers can be found in the “Videos” section. After that there are a ton of official stills you can view and download. Then there’s another cast section, but it’s just small pictures of the main cast that have the bottom quarter detach when you mouse-over it in the manner of the one-sheet.
There were no dedicated social channels for the movie since Fox Searchlight likes to keep everything on their own profiles and pages. That is, as I frequently mention, a much more sustainable approach and builds a much more engaged audience so thumbs up from me.
Advertising and Cross-Promotion
TV spots like this one tried to compress the trailer into 30 seconds. That necessarily means taking some shortcuts, so much of the emotional underpinnings of the story are gone in favor of simplifying it all down to Gyllenhaal smashing stuff. That’s kind of presented as being in response to the death of his wife, but that point isn’t gone into in any depth because it’s not as catchy as all the smashing.
Minimal online advertising was done. The trailer was used for a promoted video on YouTube but that’s all I saw or am otherwise aware of.
Media and Publicity
The movie garnered lots of positive buzz and reviews when it debuted at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where Gyllenhaal and the other filmmakers had plenty of chances to talk about the movie.
Gyllenhaal was, of course, the focal point of the publicity campaign, sitting down for Q&As like this where he talked about taking on this unique role, the movie industry in general and more. Unfortunately, as is too often the case with the entertainment press, much of what was covered in interviews about this movie were other movies he’d done. So he had to answer a new round of questions about Heath Ledger and Brokeback Mountain, what he’s doing to prep for his next role and more. Because we can’t just have a news cycle about the movie he’s actually promoting.
Outside of Gyllenhaal, the movie’s writer and director got a chance to talk about making the movie, why they wanted to tell this story and taking on such an emotional topic.
I’m in a conundrum. From a sheer marketing point of view I like a lot of what’s going on here. Some of the choices made in the trailers don’t quite work but overall they sell the movie really well, particularly the second one that shows more – or any – of Watts’ character. The poster is memorable and interesting and, as I stated, I like the website and the focus on single brand social channels. I wish the press had done something different during publicity interviews, but that’s largely out of the studio’s hands.
But I’m not thrilled with the subject matter of the movie. It’s another movie that asks us to consider the wealthy, white male as somehow being so downtrodden that he’s deserving of our sympathy. And while yes, many in the audience might relate with the overall emotions he’s feeling it’s hard to rally much empathy for someone with the luxury of changing his situation like he’s doing. That, plus it’s kind of weird to present him as finally being free of stifling embrace of his wife because she died. That’s a much different premise than if they’d divorced. So the story of the movie may not be all that appealing, but if it’s alright with you then the marketing does a good job of selling it.