‘Collateral Beauty’ Hands Out Plenty of Collateral Damage
Call it clockwork or convenience, but there’s been a trend over the past 15 years with Will Smith. Around the holidays, he tends to come out with some sort of heavy-hitting emotional drama. Props to him for a consistent formula, especially in the heat of awards season. Some years it excels with Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness and last year’s Concussion. This holiday’s Collateral Beauty is hardly something of beauty for his notable resume.
Smith stars as Howard, a highly successful ad exec in New York City. When we first meet Howard, he is quite the reflection of Smith – charismatic to a fault. When familial tragedy strikes, he descends into a deep depression affecting his colleagues and ad firm. Detached from reality, Howard buries himself in constructing elaborate domino rallies at his work (a metaphor that never flourishes). On top on of that, he begins writing letters to concepts such as love, time and death. The three abstractions are dear to his heart as he utilizes them in marketing campaigns within the film’s first moments.
Now the trailers for Collateral Beauty would have you under the impression that the film is this feel-good holiday fantasy. Anyone still in that mindset will be shocked by the ultimate bait-and-switch. Yes, Howard is visited by “Love,” “Time” and “Death” one at a time. However, it’s not what anyone was expecting. Howard’s colleagues played by Michael Peña, Kate Winslet and Edward Norton recruit a trio of actors to interact with him as those three abstractions.
But that’s not even the worst of it. Howard’s “friends” also hire a private investigator (Ann Dowd) to better understand his mindset and record his conversations with the actors. Add in some movie magic and it’ll appear if he’s crazy and unfit to manage the ad firm. There are even moments when Howard’s on the back burner and the narrative shifts to his trio of colleagues plotting its elaborate gaslight with its array of forced moments.
SEE ALSO: Collateral Beauty Review: A Creative and Life Affirming Surprise
What the best word to describe Collateral Beauty? Cynical? Manipulative? Outlandish? Throw all three in a blender with plenty of forced melodrama. There you’re front row to one of 2016’s most disturbing and brain-busting films. And I thought Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon posed enough questions this year about manipulation and cynicism. At least those thematic headlights were flashing from the start.
Collateral Beauty would be perfectly fine as an uplifting, magical holiday film. Director David Frankel has proven time and time again that he can hit those sentimental moments. Look at his track record with The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me and Hope Springs. Collateral Beauty had all the potential in the world. There’s even vibes of A Christmas Carol, modernized with three entities who hope to change a person’s life for the better. But not here. The film’s execution and message are clearly its downfall.
Just like with the atrocious Movie 43, It’s sad to see a stellar ensemble cast reach such low heights. The cast previously mentioned plus Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore and Naomie Harris are leaps and bounds better than what this film has to offer. Harris was Oscar-worthy in her superb supporting role in Moonlight a few months back. Here, there’s not much to work with besides drawing Smith’s character out of his depression. Mirren works best out of the supporting cast, personifying “Death.”
At a merciful 97 minutes, Collateral Beauty is quick, but Allan Loeb’s screenplay attempts to cram in much more blunt trauma than we deserve. Howard isn’t the only one who could use some transcendental advice. Who doesn’t have problems in Collateral Beauty? While everyone is supposedly connected and affected by this so-called “collateral beauty,” a stream-lined approach is sacrificed in the process.
Poor Will Smith. Collateral Beauty shattered his formula for holiday drama. Even if this summer’s Suicide Squad wasn’t one of his better choices, let’s hope he sticks to having more fun with his roles for a while.