Tuesday, December 13, 2016

“Collateral Beauty”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama, “Collateral Beauty” starring Will Smith and Edward Norton.


When a successful advertising executive suffers a personal tragedy that also impacts his professional life, will it cause him to lose both his friends and his business?


As recently as three years ago, Howard (Smith) seemed to have it all.  A co-owner of a rising advertising agency, he saw a bright future for his partner Whit (Norton) and his executive team Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña).  But a year later, he lost his six year old daughter; devastated, he was unable to recover and has allowed his business to suffer as a result.  Two years after his daughter’s death, Howard is still mourning her; Whit and the executives are concerned about the solvency of their agency.

With Howard’s erratic behavior undermining the company, Whit hires a private detective to investigate him.  It turns out that Howard is conducting a somewhat unorthodox form of therapy by mailing letters to Love, Death and Time; the content of the letters basically condemns all three so he can express the pain he has been feeling.  This causes Whit to hatch a scheme:  since the only way to save the business is by selling it to another company, he must be able to prove to The Board Of Directors that majority-owner Howard is not of sound mind to sign-off on the deal. 

To assist him in this plan, Whit hires three actors:  Brigitte (Helen Mirren), Amy (Keira Knightley) and Raffi (Jacob Latimore), each of whom will confront Howard as the three abstractions to which he wrote.  Brigitte will be Death, Amy portrays Love and Raffi is Time.  As they individually engage Howard and make an attempt to answer his letters, Whit orders the private investigator to make videos of these encounters, believing that when the videos are shown to the agency’s Board, it will be unequivocal proof that Howard is no longer of sound mind.  But will Whit be able to bring Howard to his senses and get him to sign the deal or will he be forced to show these embarrassing videos to their Board of Directors?


Those anxiously awaiting that perfect Christmastime dead baby movie, then “Collateral Beauty” may be the balm for your soul.  If, on the other hand, you seek something considerably less mawkish, then be advised to look elsewhere.  This is a film that is more heart than head and preys on those susceptible to spirituality, especially during the holiday season.  Others who tend to be more grounded in reality should probably take a pass.  Whatever messages it may have regarding life and parenting are sabotaged by a script that lays it on pretty thick and is considerably inelegant when it comes to exposition.

With any film, if you buy the premise, you’ll likely hang in there until the end.  “Collateral Beauty” has the self-induced problem of daring the audience to buy into its premise from the beginning.  At the outset, Howard is introduced as a people-person and yet years after his loss, tragic though it may be, he cannot get passed it and as a result negatively impacting the livelihood of those around him; he comes across as self-pitying and narcissistic because he cannot (or will not) pull himself together for the sake of his colleagues and employees. 

While the main plot focuses on Smith’s character, the movie is filled out with various subplots of Howard’s colleagues facing challenges of their own.  Norton’s character is desperately trying to repair a fractured relationship with his daughter following a divorce; career woman Winslet is mourning her decision not to have a family of her own; as Simon, Peña is concerned with his family’s welfare when he suspects he may be terminally ill.  Obviously, the theme that is supposed to resonate is that of family in whatever forms it may take.   Its overbearing sentimentality causes it to ring hollow.

Collateral Beauty (2016) on IMDb

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