Collateral Beauty is the perfect movie for people who are grieving over recent bereavements and who will be able to readily relate to the anguish that Howard (Will Smith) is struggling with on a daily basis two years after his 6 year old daughter …..his only child ….. died as a result of a rare brain disorder. The death resulted with Howard divorcing his wife and turning him from being the inspirational outgoing leader of the successful New York Advertising Agency in which he was majority partner, into a sullen and morose figure who has literally given up on everything.
The other three partners in the business Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña) were seriously worried about his well being which was now having such an adverse effect on their Agency that they were in urgent need of accepting an buy-out to avoid having to close down completely. As they had all been shut out of Howard’s life and had no idea how he spent his days/nights, they hired a private investigator (Ann Dowd) to provide them with some clue.
She reported back that on the rare occasions he left his apartment he posted some letters, which she had naturally managed to get her hands upon. They however were not addressed into anyone in particular but instead to states of being viz. time, love and death. The letters were full of bitterness and resentment and were obviously an outlet for his anger which he had refused to share with them or anyone else.
Whit then came up on a rather far-fetched idea of hiring three actors to represent ‘Time’, ‘Love’ and ‘Death’ (played by Jacob Latimore, Keira Knightly and Helen Mirren respectively) and have them answer the letters in person either as a means to help Howard move forward, or at least provide them with enough evidence to have him declared incompetent so they could go ahead and accept the takeover offer.
The other key player in the story is Madeline (Naomie Harris) who runs a Support Group for bereaved parents who have lost children. Howard deliberates for some weeks before he actually joins one of the group’s weekly meetings and when he does, he is still unable to open up and talk about his loss. It takes a great deal of gentle prodding over the next few weeks by Madeline for Howard to even start to actually be able mention the name of his daughter.
Meanwhile ‘Death’, ‘Time’ and ‘Love’s interventions seem to be having some effect on a rather confused Howard who is at least using the encounters to final physically vent his anger, which is conveniently filmed by the detective whose videos are then doctored to make it look like Howard is ranting to himself like a mad man.
It comes as no surprise to discover in this very contrived tale that the three partners are also helped with their own personal problems by the three actors too. ‘Time’ deals with Claire’s concern that her biological clock is ticking away too fast and she will miss out on the possibility of having a baby before it is too late; divorced Whit is now being rejected by his 8 year old daughter who doesn’t want to send any time with him, so ‘Love’ helps him find the resolve to win her back ; and finally ‘Death’ sensing that Simon is struggling with a fatal disease leads him to making peace with his family before it is too late.
Collateral Beauty is one of those highly emotional films that in theory provides a big meaty role full of angst that both actors and Award givers love, except in this case Smith’s performance is too uneven to be convincing, and it certainly is not helped by Allan Loeb’s script that in the last few scenes of the film, makes Howard do an unconvincing 360 degree turn. The superb A-List cast that have 2 Oscars and 16 Oscar Nominations between them, do not fair much better with a very obvious and unbelievable plot that insists on ensuring that everyone lives happily ever after before the final credits role.
Collateral Beauty is by no means the worse film of the year, and in fact there are parts that are quite entertaining …… and it has some real high points such as the presence of Brit actor Naomie Harris who is obviously destined for major stardom … but it could/should have been better, and will not only disappoint audiences more than a tad, but also Mr Smith too as it will not get him the nominations/Awards that he was so obviously banking on.
P.S. Sometimes the story behind the making of the movie is more interesting in itself, and in this particular case it does shed some light on why the finished product is so disappointing. Originally Hugh Jackman was attached to play Howard, and was to be directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon who made ‘Me, Earl & The Dying Girl’. When changes were made and Jackman was no longer available, Smith came onboard bringing along his own production company. Gomez-Rejon then left over ‘creative differences’ and was replaced with the unlikely choice of David Frankel who has made his name directing comedies such as ‘Marley and Me‘, and ‘The Devil Wore Prada‘.