Collateral Beauty is directed by David Frankel based on a screenplay by Alan Loeb and has stars some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters including Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley and Kate Winslet.
The premise of the movie is that Will Smith is a grieving father who cannot get himself back into the normal run of life two years after the tragic death of his daughter. He is Edward Norton’s business partner at an ad agency where Kate Winslet and Michael Pena also work and since he’s been out of commission, things are not going well, leaving them desperate to figure out how to keep the agency and themselves afloat. As you may have seen in commercials or trailers, Smith is writing letters to Death, Love and Time amongst many other things, trying to cope with his loss and the significance of these letters sets off a series of events that make up the rest of the movie. I won’t give away any plot spoilers but I will say that basically, this movie is a two-hour grief counselling session but it also tries to be a lot more than that, giving coordinated story arcs to not just Will Smith’s grief but also Norton, Winslet and Pena. That being said, let’s take a deeper look at why despite it’s power casting, it’s not actually all that great. With an ensemble cast like this, you can’t really blame poor acting for a poor film and I don’t.
David Frankel is an award-winning director and previously helmed The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me and Hope Springs. I don’t really have any problem with the film’s direction per se, although the pacing in certain spots is a bit slow and if he was trying to keep you guessing about certain key plot elements, he failed pretty miserably due to some poor shot choices. This movie isn’t about plot twists, per se, but the movie attempts a few surprises that don’t really turn out to be so surprising after all. That was disappointing, because I like to not know what’s going to happen an hour before it does, so this movie failed on that count.
Pacing and direction aside, the main problem I have is more with the script. Screenwriter Alan Loeb is not known for heavy-duty screenplays, having writing or shared writing credits on so-so performers like Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Just Go With It, Here Comes the Boom and Rock of Ages. There are a few inspired lines that don’t come off as platitudes and I appreciate those – they were truly touching and I did tear up a couple of times. Of course, that’s not a big surprise – just show me almost any animated children’s film and I’ll tear up about 2/3rds of the way through because I’m just a big sap when it comes to tender or heartwarming moments. So given that I’m pretty easy to emotionally manipulate with words and images, I was again disappointed at a couple of ham-fisted scenes which didn’t really play out as they intended, especially in the third act where actors are forced to say things that just don’t make a whole lot of sense for their characters to say but which Loeb must have felt needed to be said in case anyone missed what was going on. I don’t think we needed to be hit over the head quite that hard.
Overall, this movie is not a total failure by any means and I’m giving it a rating of Pretty Good. The performances work well enough, Will Smith especially bringing his “I really want an Oscar” best-foot-forward maybe a little too much, but otherwise doing a good job of showing someone who is not just grief stricken but is actually tip-toeing around a complete mental breakdown because of it. Kate Winslet and Edward Norton did not really seem fully present – I’ve seen much better work from both elsewhere. In all fairness though, that failing may also just go back to the script, which has their characters making some pretty morally questionable choices early in the film which could have had devastatingly horrible consequences and which they never really do come to terms with. This made it difficult for me to connect with them on much of any level. On the other hand, I don’t think Helen Mirren knows how to do anything but great acting and she’s fascinating as Death while Keira Knightly plays Love with exactly the right attitude and Jacob Latimore is funny and enigmatic as Time.
If you’re in the mood for a tear-jerking, therapy sort of movie, this one will fit the bill well enough. Let me know what you think in the comments and if you haven’t subscribed to my channel, go ahead and do so now. Thanks for watching.