Grieving investment banker Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) returns to work after losing his beloved wife Julia (Heather Lind) in a tragic car accident. After writing a letter to complain about a vending machine, Mitchell receives a phone call from Karen (Naomi Watts), a customer service rep from the company. Karen becomes moved by his complete honesty, while Davis finds someone to lend a sympathetic ear. As his new friendship with Karen and her son Chris (Judah Lewis) grows, Mitchell finds the strength he needs to rebuild his life.
I’ve always been a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like this before. Here he plays a grieving investment banker named Davis Mitchell who returns to work after losing his wife Julia (Lind) in a car accident. After writing a complaint letter to a vending machine company, Mitchell receives a phone call from a customer service rep named Karen (Watts). Karen becomes moved by the honesty of his letter while Davis finds someone who we can talk to. As his friendship with her and her son Chris (Lewis) grows. Mitchell finds the strength he needs to rebuild his life.
The first thing you’ll notice early on is the tone, everything just felt muted and subdued. I found it a little weird as I had no idea where the plot was going and seemed like the plot didn’t know where it was going either. I can understand not trying to be predictable but it should offer some idea as to where everything is going. So consider me a little confused. Is it about Davis coping with his grief? Is it about Davis finally paying attention and learning the truth about Julia? Is it about Davis’ relationship with Karen? Those were just some of the questions I had. There were just a lot of subplots here that partially confused the film’s point so it kind of made it a little hard to follow.
Another thing that I didn’t like about the film was that I found the plot to be a little contrived, especially the moments involving Karen and Chris. They just felt too disconnected to the main plot. It sometimes felt like I was watching two different films. It’s not that these moments were bad but it’s just that they didn’t fit together.
Plot problems aside, it was still fun to watch Gyllenhaal on screen as we got to see the evolution of his character. The film tried to make it something profound but it wasn’t really profound. The film tried to be a little philosophical at times which I am usually not a fan of but I was okay with it here. The point was that Davis had to destroy his old self not only physically but figuratively in order to build himself back up to become something and someone new. Not only did he have to look at himself but he had to look at his relationships and his career which consisted of working for his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper). The film constantly beat you over the head with this. It was chalk full of imagery and symbolism in order to support this. Davis’ house itself was the most obvious example as it served as a symbol of his past life. What didn’t help were a series of dream-like/flashback sequences involving Davis and Julia.
Despite the material, I still found Gyllenhaal’s performance was great here to be amazing here as I just couldn’t have imagined someone else in this role (which means a lot). I just found that he inhabited the character here as I believed in his grief. Cooper was also great here as Phil in a criminally small role, elevating the scenes he was in. Watts and Lewis were good here even if though the point of their characters were questionable. While the first two thirds of the film were okay, I found that the last third slightly fell apart for me as a few twists in the story just didn’t work.
Overall, while the film’s subject matter doesn’t match the way it was shot. There are still some redeeming things about it, most notably the performance of Gyllenhaal and Cooper.