“Collateral Beauty” carries a weighty name for a film that lacks the dramatic punch it tries to create. The overt attempts at sentimentality, paired with its self-satisfaction, created an unbearable movie. The film’s saving grace is Will Smith’s ability to deliver a heartrending performance regardless of the schmaltz in the dialogue, premise and plot.
Will Smith plays Howard, an enigmatic boss and major shareholder of a successful ad agency in Manhattan. Howard’s pseudo-deep philosophy behind the company’s success is “find their why.” It is his belief that everything can be sold on people’s want for love, fear of death and desire for more time. Quick cut to three years and one impressive domino structure later, Howard has lost his six-year-old child, his will to function and his “why.”
Kate Winslet, Michael Peña and Edward Norton play Howard’s partners, who are supposedly concerned with Howard’s mental state but mostly the declining state of business. This particular section of the film’s premise is hard to swallow. Pena, Winslet and Norton hire actors to convince their lawyers, and potentially Howard, that Howard is unfit to be a major shareholder. The evidence isn’t shared with a psychiatrist or anyone with the credentials to help Howard, they simply turn Howard loose after showing him he is crazy.
The trio keeps saying they hired the actors for Howard’s welfare, and he does change his ways. However, it never feels like his interactions with Love (Keira Knightley), Death (Helen Mirren) and Time (Jacob Latimore) are the cause of the change. The first time Love, Death, and Time bump into Howard, he questions his own sanity, but it doesn’t cause personal growth. It is only after his second encounter with the abstractions that his cathartic reaction aids his character development.
The conclusion of Howard’s plot should be an emotional release since it is the main storyline, but it isn’t. Howard’s road to acceptance and recovery occupy the foreground for most of the film, but the collateral characters have equally compelling hardships they are trying to work through — hardships that need advice from Love, Death and Time. For example, Howard’s partner Whit went through an ugly divorce and is trying to win back the love of his daughter. By the end of the film, through his limited dialogue with Love, he is able to start rebuilding that relationship with his daughter. The conclusion of the secondary characters’ storylines creates a greater emotional release then Howard’s.
With every other aspect of the film clearly explained, predictable and lacking the subtlety for personal interpretation and deeper meaning, the absence of explanation for what the collateral beauty in the film is supposed to be is odd. The film had the time to carefully explain the symbolism and meaning in love, death, time and grief but not the title of the film.
Explanation was placed where it wasn’t needed to ensure viewers left with only one interpretation of the film. It didn’t just lead the horse to water — the film made it drink. The greeting card platitudes from the abstractions to Howard don’t carry life-altering weight, and their advice to the three friends sounds more like advice they could get from any self-help novel.
Director: David Frankel
Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Hellen Mirren
Release Date: Dec. 16, 2016
Image Courtesy of New Line Cinema