Film Review: Collateral Beauty

by Chad Liffmann on December 16, 2016

Collateral Beauty is steeped in laughable melodrama, and not much else.

Will Smith and Edward Norton aren't too happy about anything.

Will Smith and Edward Norton aren’t too happy about anything.

Collateral Beauty could’ve been a great comedy. I have an untested and non-researched theory that ensemble casts are always better suited for comedies, and not dramas. Having numerous A-list stars in a film means that the story will attempt to give each one of them ample time for their characters to develop, change, and come to a satisfying conclusion. You don’t require those per-character time commitments in a comedy, and therefore ensemble dramas suffer from an abundance of promise and not enough deliverables. There are many other things that went wrong for Collateral Beauty. It’s a bad movie, for one. It’s an embarrassing script that somehow made it to the desks of Hollywood execs, who in turn should be embarrassed that they green lit the project. With a total overhaul of the story and characters, the film could’ve and should’ve been a hilarious new spin on the classic Christmas Carol story. Instead, Collateral Beauty is a plodding, preachy, melodramatic piece of manipulative filth. The more I think about it, the more I’m mad at myself for initially thinking that a few scenes were acceptable to watch.

Will Smith stars as Howard, the co-founder of an advertising firm who is bereft of vitality after the death of his daughter. Two years of bereavement leaves the firm’s other executives uneasy about the company’s future, including Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña). They devise an illogical and irrational scheme to capture and discredit Howard’s ability to make critical business decisions by hiring three mysterious actors, Brigitte (Helen Mirren), Amy (Keira Knightley), and Raffi (Jacob Latimore) to portray the three abstractions that Howard wrote letters to — Death, Love, and Time. But they mean well, so it’s ok. Each conspirator has their own personal issue to deal with, portrayed in remarkably shallow ways. An example: Winslet is sad because she thinks she’s getting too old to have a child, and we know this because we see her constantly looking at sperm donor pamphlets. That’s the extent of her character development throughout the film. Edward Norton’s character is sad because his daughter doesn’t want to spend any time with him after he cheated on her mother and ruined their marriage. Hm, that actually sounds reasonable. Yet, we’re asked to feel sorry for Norton because he pleads with his daughter to spend time with him because what he did wasn’t meant to hurt her. I’m gonna side with the daughter on this one. Collateral Beauty is really a completely manipulative story about selfish people, with Smith’s character being the only somewhat sympathetic (though just a puppet) player in it all, yet even his ruminations on the unfairness of life and existentialist themes are about as deep as a cereal bowl.

And why are Smith’s rants not very deep? They’re not very deep because the film doesn’t devote nearly enough time to any singular theme before needing to return to the other stupid characters and their problems. Again, timing is far from the most pressing issue with Collateral Beauty. I’m not even going to attempt a guess to why they even titled the film that. The acting is no more than serviceable throughout, with a few exemplary emotional short monologues from Smith on the impressive end of the spectrum, and on the awkward end of the spectrum, some forced American accented lines of dialogue delivered like knee-high fastballs from Winslet. One of the lines in the film is, “Just be sure to notice the collateral beauty. It’s the profound connection to everything.” Wait, what does that even mean? I don’t know. I really don’t care. I want to see a different, better movie soon to wash the collateral sour taste away.

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Collateral Beauty will come out in theaters Friday, 12/16.

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