Collateral Beauty Review
Love, time, and death. To some, there are just words, but to others they are important to the understanding of the human emotional condition. Everyone is always looking for love (be it a lifelong relationship or some form of companion), everyone always wishes for more time in their lives (a reflection found as a person becomes older), and we all fear death (the finality of it all). Now, Warner Bros. Pictures and director David Frankel take a close look at these three human abstracts ideas with the film Collateral Beauty. Does this movie resonate in human emotions or is it another shallow and manufactured feature of Hollywood?
Two years ago, Howard (Will Smith) was enjoying his life as a successful and active marketing executive, running an adverting business in New York City with his partners Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Pena). Today, however, he’s broken man, a shell of his former self due to the loss of his six-year-old daughter as he deliberately positions himself in a perpetual fog of grief and unwilling to communicate with anyone besides Madeline (Naomie Harris), who runs a support group for grieving parents. Tired of his grieving and with their company on the brink of collapsing, White, Claire, and Simon conspire catalogue Howard’s behavior, if he proves unable to participate in an upcoming deal to a large contract which could save their company. Sending private detective Sally (Ann Dowd) to track his movements. Upon Sally discovery, the group finds out that Howard has sent letters to Love, Time, and Death in a way to work out his heartfelt feelings through writing. This prompts the trio to hire actors Aimee (Keir Knightley), Raffi (Jacob Latimore), and Brigitte (Helen Mirren) to portray these abstract / intangible ideas, with hopes to push Howard over the edge, permitting the merger to through and save their company.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I remember seeing the trailer for Collateral Beauty (I still think this it’s an odd name for a movie despite they do mention the meaning in the movie) and I was immediately drawn to see. Maybe it was trailer’s music (I do love trailer music) or the movie’s premise, or maybe it was the cast (a very recognizable cast of some big-name stars). Regardless of whatever one was the define factor in my decision, I wanted to see Collateral Beauty when it got released. Of course, coming out the same week as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, means that the movie didn’t have good chance of becoming the #1 movie at the box office that week and (me being a fan of Star Wars) chose to see Rogue One over Collateral Beauty. Once I did see Rogue One, I went to my local movie theater to see the movie, expecting it to be a great emotional drama with an impressive cast. What did I think of it? Well, despite a lot of negative reviews, Collateral Beauty isn’t as terrible as everyone is making it out to be, but it’s not spectacular movie that I was hoping it to be. Its intentions and heart is in the right place, but maybe not its execution in storytelling and characterization.
Collateral Beauty is directed by David Frankel, who previously directed such films as The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me, and The Big Year. Frankel paints a very “melancholy” undertone in Collateral Beauty, finding the character of Howard struggle to overcome to the loss of his daughter, even at the expense of his partners / friends, and the fate of his company. Yes, the movie is tearjerker, drumming up emotions for some and expressing grieving over a loss, something that many of have or will have to overcome at some point in our lives (whether it be family, friends, love ones, or pets). Thus, the movie opens up that “sensitive” discussion to have with those who are grieving / mourning over a loss. In terms of filmmaking, Collateral Beauty is very well made from set layouts, to costumer wardrobes, to makeup effects. It probably won’t win any type of technical / filmmaking awards at this year’s award season, but it’s still a very pleasant and well-crafted film (to the eye).
There has been a lot of negative reviews for Collateral Beauty, criticizing it to be the “worst movie of 2016 year”. While won’t say it’s that (there’s plenty of other 2016 films out there that can easily fill that role), Collateral Beauty does have some glaring and notable flaws that do mar the feature from becoming a great and memorable movie. Perhaps the biggest (and most notable one) is the nature of the film’s narrative, which is penned by screenwriter Allan Loeb. Without spoiling it, the film’s plot is not what I expected it to be, believing (under the impression of the movie trailers) to be somewhat reminiscent of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol or a It’s A Wonderful Life type of scenario. That’s not the case when I actually saw the film, which can be disappointing to see how the actual events in the move unfolds.
Also, the reasoning behind Howard’s friends (White Claire, and Simon) is a bit deceitful and almost bit mean spirted. The movie points that the end justifies the means, Frankel giving them a legitimate reason behind their ploys with Howard, but it just seems in poor taste almost cruel on what they do. In addition, as the events of the movie progress, Collateral Beauty becomes a bit less about Howard and more about Whit, Claire, and Simon and their personal woes that are reflected in Aimee (Love), Raffi (Time), Bridgette (Death). It’s a little bit convenient and bit on the nose (if you know what I mean). All of this makes Collateral Beauty convoluted and thin at the same time, a flawed feature that doesn’t know what it wants to be: a study of a character’s inner / grieving struggle or how that particular character’s grieving struggles effect the lives around the people he’s closest to.
As I said above, one of the main reasons behind me seeing Collateral Beauty (and probably a lot of people) is its star-studded cast of recognizable actors and actresses. Unfortunately, while all of their acting is good in the movie (it’s nothing really ground-breaking, but still good), their characters aren’t given much material to go on, leaving the actors / actresses themselves (and their talents) to carry the weight of the film. A prime example of this is found in the movie’s chief protagonist (Howard), who is played by Oscar-nominee actor Will Smith. Smith’s natural charisma and likeable energy is pretty much downplayed in the movie (with the exception of a brief scene at the film’s beginning), with Smith wearing a grief-stricken persona for most of the film’s runtime. In truth, Smith’s Howard is pretty much a mute for the first half of the film, refusing to talk or even converse with the others or the entire outside world. This, of course, leads to a problem as we (the viewers) never really go beyond the Howard’s surface, never really seeing the in-depth struggle and inner turmoil that he faces. The only time he does open up (both actor / characters) is when he’s confronted with his three abstracts as its only then that Smith shines in the movie (but its only in brief moments). All in all, Will Smith’s Howard could’ve been an interesting character in Collateral Beauty, but, due to the Frankel and Loeb’s direction, is casted in an ambiguous light that never fully materialize into a well-rounded character.
This can also be extended to much of the supporting cast, especially Howard’s executive partners / friends Whit, Claire, and Simon, who are played by Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Michael Pena. All three are well respected actors in Hollywood and have produced characters in film in their body of work, but, like Smith, Collateral Beauty is not there best. Echoing to what I said above, their characters are given a side story to follow in the movie: Whit (recently divorced) deals with trying connecting to his daughter, Claire fears of having a child, and Simon is hiding a fatal illness from his loved ones. However, there’s not enough material given to fully care about these characters (Claire’s storyline feels like an afterthought), which contradicts the whole aspect of Howard being the main character of the feature as a lot of time is spent of these three characters.
Howard’s three abstracts of love, time, and death are probably one of the film’s highlights. Played by Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, and Oscar Winner Helen Mirren, these three characters are important to the film (and to Howard) as each actor brings these abstract beings to life with vibrancy. Unfortunately, while all are good, Mirren’s Brigette and Knightley’s Aimee get the most screen time of the three, Latimore’s Raffi gets the short end of the stick. The last side character to be mentioned is Naomie Harris, who plays Madeline, a woman who runs a support group for parents who lost their children that Howard frequently stops by at. Like the rest, there isn’t a whole lot the Madeline character, but Harris gets the job done with her acting talents.
Lastly, the ending of the movie is a bit flimsy. There’s a twist at the end, which I do like and I have nothing wrong with, but the final scenes with some of the side characters (i.e. White, Claire, and Simon) There could’ve been more to their endings as we are left with something inclusive with someone of the personal character story? There’s definitely room for some additional material to be added to expand upon their own stories (especially their final scenes), but we never get that. The same can be said with the character of Howard at the end of the film. I don’t know…maybe I was expecting something more, perhaps one more additional scene. As a side-note, while Collateral Beauty is set during the Christmas season, Frankel never really touches upon the spirit of the holiday beyond just using it as a backdrop setting in certain scenes.
The intangible ideas of love, time, and death are the three main beats in the movie Collateral Beauty. Director David Frankel newest film takes a closer look at the grieving process, unfolding its drama to emotional ending with a recognizable star-studded cast to play its main / supporting players. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be, feeling contrive, thin, weak characterization, and (at times) a bit unfocused. Personally, the movie was okay and a bit disappointing at the same time. It wasn’t as bad as some are calling it to be, but I can’t deny the fact that it was pretty misleading to what I was expecting it to be. Thus, I would say that my recommendation for this movie is a rental (if curious to see it) or (if you’re leaning towards the other way) I would say that maybe just skipping the movie altogether would suffice as well. While its intentions are pure in its message of grieving and of finding hope after loss, Collateral Beauty winds up being something as ambiguous as the intangible abstracts of love, time, and death; something that has good and fundamental ideas that doesn’t materialize wholeheartedly beyond what’s presented.
2.7 Out of 5 (Rent It / Skip It)
Released On: December 16th, 2016
Reviewed On: December 19th, 2016
Collateral Beauty is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
There was only one reason to open a movie with FIVE Oscar nominees/winners in it against Star Wars and that was to bury a bomb so no one would notice. I can’t imagine it’s worse than Sausage Party or The Witch which are my two worst movies of this year (and yes I know well-reviewed). I keep waiting for Smith to really nail something and he’s so damn likable that you can’t help but root that he does, but it feels like a long time since his movies were events.
Definitely agree with you. It wasn’t a super bad / terrible movie, but it just felt underwhelming to me. Like you said, Will Smith is so likeable that its hard not to root for him, despite him being in a medicore subpar movie.
The ultimate statement about how far M. Night Shaymalan has fallen is when somehow managed to leech all the charisma out of both Will and Jaden Smith in After Earth. I didn’t even think that was possible. He’s like a fun vampire.
I enjoyed reading your thorough and thoughtful review Jason. But I believe that Collateral Beauty is the most misread and unfairly condemned film of last year. It is a lyrical essay on grief psychosis that uses magical realism to frame its premise. It has a complex narrative structure and some other issues, but it is a gut-wrenching story that if staged in 17th century costumes would have been seen as a universal fable of Shakespearean proportions.