On the surface, Collateral Beauty might look like a major Oscar contender. Behind the Emerald Curtain, though, it’s more like a Lifetime or Hallmark movie. Okay, maybe that’s a little too cruel. This film isn’t without a few strong performances and even one or two charming moments. However, it’s also predictable, cliché, laughable, and sentimental enough to give anyone a toothache. There’s a fine line between being genuinely inspiring and shoving inspiration down our throats. Collateral Beauty sadly falls into the latter category.
There’s a fine line between being genuinely inspiring and shoving inspiration down our throats. Collateral Beauty sadly falls into the latter category.
Will Smith stars as Howard Inlet, a charismatic advertising executive coping with the loss of his six-year-old daughter. Howard’s grief takes a toll on his work performance, which also affects three of his employees/friends. Edward Norton plays Whit, a divorced father trying to reconcile with his daughter, Kate Winslet plays Claire, a middle-aged woman with a ticking biological clock, and Michael Peña plays Simon, a man clearly suffering from a terminal illness based on a bad cough. The three discover that Howard has been mailing letters to Love, Time, and Death as a rather weird therapeutic exercise. To save their jobs and encourage Howard to move on, they hire three actors to play these entities.
Keira Knightley takes on the role of Love, Jacob Latimore is Time, and Helen Mirren is Death. This trio of course help Howard deal with his inner pain, but they also just might help Whit, Claire, and Simon with their issues. While the setup is beyond corny and preposterous, the film does have a couple intriguing ideas that could’ve worked with a smarter script. You could even see a director like Frank Capra undertaking a project like this. Unfortunately, Collateral Beauty isn’t original enough for this premise to really blossom. Instead, director David Frankel and screenwriter Allan Loeb settle for a routine crowd-pleaser that’ll only please the most forgiving crowds.
David Frankel and screenwriter Allan Loeb settle for a routine crowd-pleaser that’ll only please the most forgiving crowds.
The script reads like a greeting card company wrote it. Loeb’s dialog is so on the nose that he practically spells out every character ark. As a result, we know everything that’s going to happen from beginning to end. To give the actors some credit, the whole ensemble does a respectable job at selling this schmaltzy material. Smith particularly nails it during a scene where he finally unleashes all of his bottled up emotions. It reminds us why Smith is truly overdue for an Oscar. It’s just too bad that his performance isn’t in a better movie.
Despite being a complete misfire, Collateral Beauty at least has its heart in the right place. If you’re coping with the death of a loved one, you might find some value in the film. Even on that basis, though, there are much better movies out there about overcoming grief. This year alone we got Manchester by the Sea and A Monster Calls. The previous film did an especially great job at balancing brutal reality with fantastic elements. You sincerely felt the pain the main character was going through. Here, everything feels forced and romanticized. Everyone’s choices are questionable, making it impossible to relate to any of them. Sure, Collateral Beauty has good intentions, but that doesn’t automatically make it a good movie.