Collateral Beauty Film Review: An Instructional on What Not to do in Times of Trauma

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collateral-beauty-bannerAll images courtesy of Warner Bros.

There’s are many things wrong with the David Frankel-directed drama COLLATERAL BEAUTY, with the main issue being that someone thought that this would actually be a movie worth making. The title of the movie itself already poses the question, “What the hell does that even mean?” while the incredibly talented cast promises some hardcore acting with a capital A. Unfortunately, the latter doesn’t matter. The convoluted drama is so pandering and sure of itself that it makes you cringe with anger.

Trying to line itself with A Christmas Carol and other holiday tales that advertise affirmations like “Stop and smell the roses” and “Be grateful for what you have,” Collateral Beauty goes a little darker as it follows Howard (Will Smith), a successful New York advertising executive while he is mourning the tragic loss of his daughter three years after her death. Shutting himself off from work and his personal life, his friends show deep concern and try to find ways to reconnect with him and bring him back to civilization, so to speak.

While locking himself in his dark and sparse apartment, he writes letters to Love, Time, and Death. Yes, you heard that right. He writes letters to intangible concepts as a form of therapy. His friends learn of these letters and in one last Hail Mary attempt to get him out of his funk, they hire a trio of actors (for a ridiculous amount of money) to play Love, Time, and Death to follow Howard around the city (read: stalk him) and act as if they are these concepts and help him come to terms with his loss. This sounds like a bad idea because it is a bad idea — just like the existence of this movie.

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There are plenty of movies about parents who try to cope with the loss of a child and, for the most part, they are done with such care and thoughtfulness. They portray heartwrenching grief in a way that probably won’t come near the actually feeling of loss, but gives a tiny glimpse as to what a parent goes through. In fact, Manchester by the Sea covers this ground and shows the aftermath of loss and the existential crisis it can bring about. At the same time, it effortlessly balances the shroud of grief with a path of hope and catharsis. Collateral Beauty attempts to do this and fails on all fronts not only because of its horrible premise but because it seems to say “We got all the answers when it comes coping with a child’s death!” It so does not.

The movie is conceptual and would probably work better as a play and it is so insanely manipulative that it might work as a comedy. But this is not a play or comedy — this is a horribly executed movie. For one, what kind of friends would pull this type of malarkey on a friend that’s grieving? A friend who is not letting anyone in does not need a trio of “imaginary” people accosting him on the street and making him seem crazy. Speaking from a realistic standpoint, that is just wrong and the opposite of being a good friend. At one point, Amy (Keira Knightley), the actor who plays Love, says that this is a horrible thing to do to a person. She, out of all the people involved in this scheme, was the only person with any sense, yet she still went through with it because, you know, it’s about ACTING…and a hefty paycheck.

The movie tends to double down on its overcomplicated and trite story by having Howard’s friends Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Pena) pair off with the actors to fight their own demons because, of course, they need to learn a lesson in this story as well. Amy spends time with Whit and teaches him how to “love” his estranged bratty daughter and Claire, who feels that her biological clock is ticking, wants to have a baby and Raffi (Jacob Latimore), who plays Time teaches her that “time is an illusion.” Finally, the free-spirited Brigitte (Helen Mirren) who plays Death, befriends Simon as he — surprise! — learns that he is suffering from an illness he thought was in remission. Lots of moral lessons to be taught, but in the most obnoxious and cloying way you can imagine.

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The movie could have been tolerable if it were to focus on Howard’s arc and his journey to recovery alongside his support group companion, Madeleine (Naomie Harris), but it decided to go another route by slathering it with schmaltz and frustration and releasing it to the masses as a poor excuse for heartwarming holiday movie. It’s insulting. It goes in line with Hollywood’s affinity for slapping talented A-list actors, who don’t know what they are in for, on a crappy project and calling it art. There are low-budget Lifetime movies from the late ’90s that have been light years better.

Rated:  PG-13
Running time: 97 minutes

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Dino watches too much , enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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