Collateral Beauty has all the ingredients for a great feel-good summer film. It has Hollywood heavyweights, a picturesque New York City backdrop, and a nice trailer with fantasy elements (ala A Christmas Carol) that could appeal to an audience in the mood for some holiday cheer. Unfortunately, by the end of the film, you will likely be left feeling manipulated by the filmmakers’ sledgehammer approach to plot turns and disappointed that Will Smith – who does seem like a nice guy – chose to do such a film. Let’s hope his next one is better. Much better.
Admittedly, the premise of Collateral Beauty is intriguing, if going by the trailer or the first 15 minutes of the film. On the surface, and like director David Frankel’s other films such as Marley & Me and One Chance, the potential for feel-good tears at the end is high.
Will Smith plays Howard Inlet, a successful ad executive who experiences a tragic loss, making him a recluse who shuns his former colleagues and life in general. In his depressed state, he writes letters to three abstractions – Love, Death, and Time – and lo and behold, he is personally greeted by them shortly after in the form of Keira Knightley, Dame Helen Mirren and Jacob Lattimore, respectively. The setup of the story is summed up by the trailer and could have made a fairly simple modern-day take on how a saddened man deals with loss (in a Dickens-like way) and embraces life again. Cue happy tears?
However, in the first of many twists, Collateral Beauty turns out not to be the film the trailers quite clearly promoted. Instead of a Christmas tale that requires audiences to happily suspend their disbelief for a while until Smith shows his pearly whites again, we are given a more down-to-earth plot of scheming colleagues (Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and Michael Peña) who hire three actors to play the Love, Death and Time manifestations in the hopes their private detective will film their grief-stricken colleague ‘acting crazy’ and thus get him voted off the company board. Writer Allan Loeb chose a more challenging, and ultimately more detrimental, route to that tacked on feel-good ending.
The journey to the credits is fraught with a myriad of subplots that aim to illuminate the human condition, but instead annoy and frustrate. For example, after accepting that the main premise for the film rests on a plan to hoodwink a grieving father, audiences are then made to feel for the co-conspirators, who are shown to experience their own personal struggles. There is very little, if any, subtlety in the storytelling (with one character even carrying that tell-tale ‘cough’ as he talks to Death), plot twists are signposted early, and there is a seeming need to tie up and link as many subplots together as possible – no matter how questionable.
There is no doubt the cast of Collateral Beauty is strong. Boasting an ensemble that share plenty of industry accolades, including Oscar nominations and an OBE, this alone can draw people to the theatres. But there is only so much that good acting can do with a script as saccharine and exasperating as this. Smith manages to showcase his strong dramatic chops in one of the final twists, but even this is essentially overlooked because the reveal itself is so flimsy.
Collateral Beauty is not the good summer movie we hoped for. Its potential is squandered by a convoluted story that drags its audience from one unaffecting plot twist to the next. By the end of it, and despite Smith’s red-rimmed eyes and the forcibly neat storybook ending, we are left dry-eyed and lacking in any emotional release – besides disbelief and disappointment that is.
THE REEL SCORE: 2/10