On a bit of a whim in 1991, Witherspoon answered a call for extras in her hometown newspaper.
She wound up with the lead in her first feature film, (1991), at just 14 years old.
Eventually, he and the kid are taking sledgehammers to his former marital home in a sequence where the whimsy and metaphors are laid on with a trowel.
It’s an impressively committed Gyllenhaal performance in a film not grounded even in stylized reality — with a mad rush of emotionally manipulative twists at the end to tie up the (many) loose ends.
Soon, Gyllenhaal and the unhappily married Watts are seeing each other (the actors have no chemistry whatsoever), and with her husband away on business, he hangs around the house with her and her effeminate young son (Judah Lewis), who Gyllenhaal urges to shoot him in his bulletproof vest in the film’s most ridiculous scene.
In the meantime, “Demolition’’ lives up to its title, as Gyllenhaal begins disassembling things (his refrigerator, his computer, the men’s room in the office) before graduating to working on a home-wrecking crew in a three-piece suit.
It’s a blatant device for Gyllenhaal to pour his heart out in a long letter to the vending-machine company — and, believe it or not, their customer service rep (Naomi Watts) calls him at 2 o’clock in the morning.
A successful investment banker struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash.
With the help of a customer service rep and her young son, he starts to rebuild, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew.
The Toronto International Film Festival is a longtime launchpad for awards campaigns, but its choices for opening-night films are sometimes above the fray, like Thursday night’s “Demolition,’’ starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who is unable to grieve after his wife’s sudden death.
That might sound like surefire Oscar bait coming from French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée, who directed Matthew Mc Conaughey and Jared Leto to wins with “Dallas Buyers Club’’ — which bowed at the 2013 festival — and who helmed Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern to nods for last year’s “Wild.’’ “Demolition’’ isn’t scheduled to open in the US until April, which seems like a tacit admission by Fox Searchlight that this screwball comedy-drama is in some ways even more out-there and potentially alienating to audiences (but probably not to some critics) than “Nightcrawler,’’ the Gyllenhaal vehicle whose Oscar push netted a sole nomination for director Dan Gilroy’s screenplay.