After his 6 year old daughter dies of cancer, formerly successful advertising executive, Howard, finds himself struggling to find meaning in his life and in the world around him. Reeling from the loss, and isolating himself from the world around him, he falls into a devastatingly deep depression. Seeking solace in writing directly to the abstract concepts of love, time, and death, Howard seems to be drifting further and further away from reality and the people that care about him. That is until one day when love, time, and death actually respond.
I’ll be blunt in stating that Collateral Beauty as a film just doesn’t work. It combines realism and fantasy in a way that makes the story feel inauthentic, shallow, and frankly a little insulting to the viewer. There are brief moments that work but overall the narrative seems formulaic and tiresomely senseless. If Hollywood released a guide on how to make a heartwarming tearjerker, this film would fit the bill. It’s such an outline of expected tropes mixed with quirky twists that it falls flat and fails to elicit any of the feelings that it shoots for.
Collateral Beauty tells you constantly what you should be feeling rather than actually making you feel those things. It talks at you. Through its characters, through its Christmas urban winter wonderland setting, and through its overly complex story, the film tries so hard to mechanically tug at your heart strings that it fails. There’s a point in the film when discussing how he felt the first time that he held his daughter in his arms, where Edward Norton’s character describes his realization that until that moment he had only been talking about love, and now he was actually feeling it for the first time. That line describes the problem with this movie in a nutshell. It talks to you about love but you never actually experience love. It talks to you about the passage of time but it never really explores the concept in any complexity. It talks to you about death and mortality but it never delves into the subject with any depth. It seems superficial, and because of that you never really engage with any of the characters and their struggles.
I wanted to engage with the characters, especially since the film boasts an impressive ensemble cast that includes Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Dame Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, and Michael Peña. I just couldn’t. Will Smith, again in the role of sad dad with kid issues, is at his worst for the first half of the film. He’s just a depressed guy not talking and making sad faces. He manages to show glimpses of the actor we all know and love in the second half, but given the story that he has to work with it’s not enough to save the film. Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, and Michael Peña are the stronger performances in the film but they also can’t save the film from its own pretention. Keira Knightley’s part is too small and silly for her to really do much of anything with it and Edward Norton’s character just comes off as not really that likeable, which isn’t really what the film is going for.
Collateral Beauty wants to leave the audience with the understanding that even under the most tragic of circumstances, beauty exists. But it loses that message through a combination of sappy cliché and the 2 dimensional characters, while patting itself on the back for how clever it thinks it is.
|Collateral Beauty (2016)|
|Studio:||Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema|
|Release Date:||December 16th, 2016|