What are we? Some kind of collateral beauty?
Collateral Beauty is directed by David Frankel and features an all-star cast of Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Michael Pena, Naomie Harris, Jacob Latimore, Helen Mirren, and Keira Knightley.
This is a rather unique occasion. I cannot simply proceed to go about telling you all of the necessary plot details of Collateral Beauty. The trailers tell you one story, while the film itself tells you another one, with some overlap between the two. The cardinal sin of any movie trailer is to reveal every major plot element because wouldn't that defeat the purpose of seeing the film? It would not be wrong to say that Collateral Beauty does its job of not revealing every important detail within its trailers. What stands out, though, is how it goes about structuring various clips into a trailer in a way that gives you a majorly false impression of what the film is about.
When examining the film strictly from a trailer viewpoint, Collateral Beauty focuses on a man named Howard (Will Smith) who is the head of an advertising agency. Howard is suffering from a tragic loss in his life, and, according to his friends, played by Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, and Michael Pena, Howard is depressed and disengaged from the world. It is discovered that Howard is writing letters to the abstract concepts of love, death, and time. Shortly afterwards, Howard begins to get visits from three people (Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, and Jacob Latimore) claiming to be the embodiments of love, death, and time. These three people try to help Howard cope with his recent loss. Howard also finds emotional support from a woman played by Naomie Harris.
The trailers suggest that the film plays off as a tearjerker fantasy drama, which would be completely acceptable if that was what the film is actually about. Instead, this is what the film is about: Howard is suffering from the loss of his young daughter and is beginning to fail at his job. He isn't talking with anyone, he won't answer any phone calls, and he spends much of his time playing with colored dominoes or riding his bike. Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, and Michael Pena play three people named Claire, Whit, and Simon, respectively, and all three work for the company that Howard is the majority shareholder of. The company is losing many clients, and Claire, White, and Simon all fear for their jobs. The three decide to hire a private investigator to find evidence that Howard is no longer capable of running the company. The private investigator breaks into the postal service, (and last I recall, mail tampering is a felony) and finds that Howard has written letters to love, death, and time. Claire, Whit, and Simon then decide to hire three actors, promising to pay each actor a hefty sum if they agree to act as love, death, and time and approach Howard about the letters he wrote. While the actors are talking with Howard, the private investigator records Howard having his conversations. The actors are then digitally removed from the recorded footage so as to make it look as if Howard is talking to nobody, which will then be used as evidence to conclude that Howard is mentally unstable and, therefore, incapable of running the company any longer.
What we have here is a miscalculation of the highest degree. Combine this film's preposterous premise with the fact that it was released the same weekend as box office gargantuan Rogue One, and you have yourself a complete failure of an annual Will Smith Christmas-time Oscar-bait drama. Collateral Beauty is not just bad. That would be too easy to say because there are many ways that a film can be bad. Collateral Beauty is fraudulent, which is a word that I think is so rarely used when describing a film. The fact that so many A-list, Academy Award winning actors signed on to this film is mind-boggling. Are you telling me that not a single one of them had the decency to look at the script and object to the obviously manipulative and downright offensive parts that stick out like a sore thumb? David Frankel knows a thing or two about manipulative tearjerkers. This is the guy that brought us every pet owner's favorite weeper, Marley & Me. I just cannot stomach how he and all of these credible actors that were involved could proceed as if all of the film's attempts at emotional uplift greatly outweighed the glaring flaws in its writing and execution. This is also the last kind of film that I would predict you could encounter such a colossal misfire. That's what makes Collateral Beauty all the more startling. Shouldn't this kind of thing happen to stupid comedies or bad action movies? How could this possibly happen to an emotional Christmas-time drama? With Will Smith no less?
- With so much talent on display here, you would hope that everyone at least gives a decent effort, which they do. No one is going to wow the Academy here, especially not screenwriter Allan Loeb, who perhaps should be barred from ever getting nominated for an Oscar, let alone win one. Will Smith is doing his best to make the most out of what he is given to do, which requires a lot of sad faces, long stretches without saying a word, and avoiding smiling at all costs. I'm afraid that this is more of a non-charismatic After Earth type of Will Smith and not the wisecracking cool Will Smith who can easily win the hearts of millions. Everyone else does enough to make themselves believable, even if it seems like they are all coasting a bit on autopilot.
- Collateral Beauty looks nice with its Christmas-y cinematography. The lighting is effective, and the film has that holiday feeling which might make it more appropriate to view late in the year and not on the brink of summer.
- The plot is, truly, one of the most ghastly and inexplicable plots that I have come across in recent memory. Had the film incorporated the supposed fantasy elements from the trailer(s), I would bet that it could come through as an acceptable Christmas-time drama film. Instead, we have a plot that involves a man having his grief stricken life put down even further by coworkers who claim to be his friends. If they were really Howard's friends, they would do whatever it takes to help him get back on his feet. No, they insist on hiring actors as a means to prove that Howard is mentally unstable, so as to save their own jobs, without a care for what happens to Howard in the long run. This is sadistic and shameful work by a group of selfish characters, and the fact that I'm supposed to feel moved to tears by this process makes this whole experience even worse. You might be better off viewing Collateral Beauty as a black comedy, because the premise is better suited for comedy rather than for a tearjerker.
With so much talent behind it, Collateral Beauty definitely had a chance to be a solid drama film and a fine installment in the series of Will Smith December Oscar-bait. Too bad that its backed by a plot that is inexcusable and unforgivable in every way. It is a real low blow when a film aiming for emotional manipulation involves taking advantage of one man's sorrow. Collateral Beauty will move you to tears alright, tears over it being a shameful offense to cinema that cannot be justified in any reasonable way. Its only redeeming factors are being fairly well-acted and being nice to look at. Otherwise, you have yourself a total fraud of a film. I never thought that the film industry could reduce itself to approving the works of con artists. Whatever to get a quick buck, I guess.
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