Directed by: David Frankel
Written by: Allan Loeb
Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris
Large existential concepts are difficult to parse through because of the individual impact it can have on everyone. Particularly when looking at love, time, and death, everyone’s experience with these three terms vary in such a manner that trying to distill it requires caution, which Collateral Beauty does not do in the slightest. Instead, it results in a wholly mean-spirited film way too high on what it attempts to do.
After the death of his daughter, Howard (Will Smith) struggles with returning to form as the brilliant marketing executive he has always been. This leads to the company he co-owns to struggle in a financial manner. His partners Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña) see the troubles their friend battles but they must find a way to save themselves financially. They then decide to make Howard look mentally unstable by hiring actors to portray love, death, and time and record their interactions to take over the company.
From the promotion to the higher concepts being debated in Collateral Beauty, this film tries so hard to be intellectual and heartwarming. It wants to be seen in such high regard and while it has decent conceptual conversations about love, death, and time, the film cannot erase just how mean and inhumane the characters are in this story. Explaining the plot of this film to my wife had me laughing throughout because of how inconceivably dumb the whole premise proves to be. The partners are made aware of Howard writing letters to love, death, and time so they decide to have struggling actors portray each of these concepts and approach Howard as if they’re his mental manifestations of these ideas. Their hopes rely on his interactions with the actors being recorded and then having the thespians edited out, thus making it appear Howard does nothing but shout at nothing. An idea so cruel and inhumane, I refuse to believe these partners ever cared for this man.
To make everything explicitly clear, this man is grieving the loss of his daughter, and his business partners, who say they care for him, attempt to make him look crazy to protect themselves. The film then has the audacity to jump into their personal lives and make them sympathetic as if they’re not a bunch of monsters. It’s almost insulting to a degree. How do you expect an audience to care for Whit’s struggles to connect with his teenage daughter after cheating on his wife while he attempts to discredit a man battling with depression after the loss of his own daughter? I could only laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
The moments where Howard speaks to the actors representing time, love, and death definitely become the film’s best parts, but the screenplay tries so hard to make these moments “deep” that it once again fails to see the humanity of its characters. It all becomes a theoretical discussion about these topics without any real substance. Also, it’s laughable that these actors could hang with portraying these ideas for so long with Howard. I understand, they have the talent and are unappreciated as actors, but the level of improvisation they must do here defies any level of logic.
By far the most aggravating aspect of this film comes from the misdirect it gave me of purporting to be a good film. I mean, look at the cast of this horrific movie: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keria Knightley, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Jacob Latimore, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, and Ann Dowd. It should be impossible to make a film this poor with the absurd amount of talent sprawling throughout the feature. I went into it knowing the negative reputation it had. I wanted to give it a chance, and I received something much worse than I could have ever imagined. It’s made all worse when seeing the actors do a decent job in their performances. They certainly decided to give it their all, but the material they have been forced to entertain is completely rotten to its core.
Do not be like me and get pulled into watching this because of the cast involved. Collateral Beauty tries to speak on large concepts but has no heart whatsoever. Instead, it concocts a mercilessly mean group of people doing someone so selfish to someone going through genuine grief and strife. Again, it would be one thing for these people to be seen as villains of the story, but the sheer audacity to try to make them sympathetic while pulling through with this heinous plan insulted me. A horrific exercise in trying to tackle large concepts at every single turn.