Jessica Derschowitz
March 11, 2016 AT 12:00 PM EST

In Demolition, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a man who takes a sledgehammer to his life (figuratively, yes, but a few actual walls come crashing down, too) and builds himself back up with some help from a kindred spirit, her son, and some good old-fashioned rock music.

The film, directed by Wild and Dallas Buyers Club helmer Jean-Marc Vallée, stars Gyllenhaal as Davis, a successful investment banker struggling after his wife dies in a car crash. Initially numb and in need of someone to talk to, he begins composing complaint letters to a vending machine company as an outlet for his grief. Those letters end up in the hands of a customer service employee (Naomi Watts), sparking an unexpected friendship with her and her angsty, classic-rock loving son.

EW is premiering an exclusive Demolition clip (above), as well as the film’s SXSW poster (below) ahead of its U.S. premiere at the Austin festival on Saturday. In this scene, Davis finds himself far removed from his once-thriving professional life. Rowdy, careless and disheveled, he enters his office, with a harsh reality check waiting from his boss, who also happens to be the father of his late wife (Chris Cooper).

“It was ad-libbed as we were shooting,” Vallée says of filming Gyllenhaal’s dance moves, set to the sounds of “Mr. Big” by Free. “I showed a clip to Jake. I said, look at this guy dancing. You know, what’s it like to dance in the streets of New York like this, and just go wild? And he went, ‘Oh, yeah. F–k yeah. Let’s do this.’”

“We were shooting at the office and we had permission to shoot in the streets around the office, but then — we were a small crew, hiding the camera, we had production assistants and producers with some boards saying if you cross this line you might be in a feature film, so all the extras are accidental extras, and Jake just had a headset and he’s having fun with the music and just going wild,” the director says. “We knew we wanted to have this moment where this guy is telling society and the system, f–k off, I’m going to do it my own way.”

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Vallée, who had been slated to direct Demolition following Dallas Buyers Club but ultimately delayed it until after Wild, calls the film both a “deeply touching” meditation on grief and a story that celebrates life and love — with a knock-everything-down, march-to-your-own-drummer ethos.

“The film has the spirit of rock and roll,” he says. “I wanted this film, with this character, to have this rock and roll feel, with rock and roll songs, but the script has this feeling of making a lot of noise, telling your parents I’m gonna do it my own way, telling the establishment I’m gonna do it this way. It’s the most rock and roll film I’ve made.”

 

After its bow at SXSW, Demolition will arrive in theaters on April 8.

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