Davis Mitchell was sleep walking through his marriage. His young, beautiful wife, Julia (Heather Lind), had told him that he didn’t listen, and then one day she was gone; taken from him in a car accident.
I can relate with that. Not in its literal entirety, but the premise and the overall emotional upheaval that it would bring about rings very true to me, as I’m sure it will for many.
There then follows the curious scenario of a man standing at the epicentre of a collective outpouring of familial grief and emotion, yet feeling just a kind of numbness to it all and an overwhelming urge to distance himself from the entire charade.
Davis Mitchell, (the very excellent Jake Gyllenhaal), it would appear has spent the last twelve years of his life on auto pilot; one half of a convenient marriage; almost certainly the less committed half.
A faulty vending machine in the A&E department of the hospital in which his wife has just died prompts Davis to write the first of what becomes an obsessive sequence of letters to the vending firm’s customer care representative, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) who, in time he befriends along with her troubled son, Chris (Judah Lewis), and through whom he gradually begins to rediscover himself.
In the aftermath of his wife’s passing, he slips into a somewhat detached and surreal place in his head; the sort of place that one finds oneself in, in times of upheaval, and much as his wife used to implore him to do when she was physically there, he suddenly starts noticing things again, right down to the tiniest of details.
This sudden, new-found observance, together with an obsessive compulsion to rip apart – more often than not, literally – the very fabric and structure of his marriage and everything that has come to represent it, is all well and good in attempting to aid the healing process, but Davis is still employed by Julia’s father, a man who expects Davis to remain true to his daughter’s memory and true to the man that he was before her untimely death.
This thoughtful piece from director Jean-Marc Vallée‘s is simultaneously emotionally involving and entertaining. Predictably Jake Gyllenhaal excels as the emotionally confused widower experiencing the kind of new lease on life that can maybe only be found through the total abandonment of all that has preceded and supposedly defined you to date.
It’s not a film that panders to emotional cliches or resorts in any way to unnecessary schmaltz – when the opportunities are certainly there to do so – and as bizarre as Davis’ new found reality can be at times, crucially it’s a film that remains credible and believable throughout.
Vallée has successfully captured a very different take on the concept of going through the rigours of the grieving process, and how it’s sometimes only ever possible to truly appreciate someone and what they truly meant to you once they’re gone.
A subtle, understated piece that deserves far better critical recognition than sadly it appears to have had thus far.
Very much recommended.