Director: David Frankel
Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, Naomie Harris, Ann Dowd
Sometimes you need those movies that are a little bit schmaltzy to put you in just the right mood for Christmas. It can be a hard time for people who have lost a loved one whether it’s a child, parent, or significant other. This film is for that audience. You could consider Collateral Beauty a Christmas movie as the whole thing is set at that time, yet the script doesn’t directly refer to the holiday as much as you would expect. At the center of this holiday story is Will Smith as Howard who was once an in demand ad executive. He lost his daughter a couple of years ago and has yet to really come to terms with her death. At work, he has not been mentally present to take care of the demands of his business. It’s been in a downward slump with shares of stock on the line. He has always believed that the three things that bind every human together are love, time, and death. His only way of coping with his daughter’s death is to write letters to his three abstractions. It’s not long before he’s approached by three different strangers who just happen to introduce themselves as: Love (Knightley), Time (Latimore), and Death (Mirren).
His co-workers Whit (Norton), Claire (Winslet), and Simon (Peña) are all worried about him and their jobs. All three of them are also going through their own life dilemmas. Whit cheated on his wife and is now facing the consequences as his daughter refuses to spend time with him. Claire feels her biological clock is ticking and fears she is getting too old to have children. Simon has recently learned that his multiple myeloma has returned. Howard isn’t the only one to feel their presence as Whit, Claire, and Simon are all affected by Love, Time, and Death in their own way.
As you can probably ascertain, Collateral Beauty is the kind of movie where you have to go in with a certain level of open mindedness. It’s not a movie that necessarily lives in a grounded state of reality. It asks its audience to go on a journey about guardian angels and the roles that some strangers can have in our lives. Howard is in a dangerous spiral like many characters in these types of spiritual Christmas style movies often go through. They have to go through some sort of existential leap of faith to get out of the funk they are in. There’s a big twist that comes into play very early on that alters how you look at the movie. This has been purposefully left out of the trailers. Now, I’m not about to spoil that here but it’s another defining moment of the movie that may turn off moviegoers. That’s the first of a few different interlocking moments that screenwriter Allan Loeb (Just Go with It, The Dilemma) throws in to add those extra emotional punches. There’s also quite a bit of symbolism used throughout including a bit involving elaborate patterns of dominoes that, you guessed it, topple over.
Those with a harder shell may roll their eyes a bit at some of these choices that Loeb uses to make his point, but it’s just better to loosen up and go with the flow. I don’t know his background, but I did begin to wonder if he based this story on a personal crisis. Howard’s story feels like a very personal journey of acceptance that Loeb may have gone on himself. I bet that anyone who has lost a child has shared some of Howard’s thoughts and feelings. He has had a hard time moving on, let alone talking about he’s going through. He shuts out any conversation that starts about his daughter. He even gets the gumption to go in a support group for parents but can’t bare to fully open up to its leader, played by Naomie Harris (Moonlight).
I don’t know if it’s the closed off nature of Will Smith’s character or not, but I found myself more drawn in to the side plots involving the trio of friends who are also impacted by the trinity of life forces. There’s a reminder present that even though we may be going through something rough, our friends or loved ones may also be going through tough times. Helen Mirren is quite a stitch as Death. She has some touching scenes with Michael Peña. The only newcomer to the group is Jacob Latimore (The Maze Runner) as Time who is primarily paired with Kate Winslet. Winslet and Keira Knightly have both done Christmas movies before with The Holiday and Love Actually, respectively. Both of these films are far superior to Collateral Beauty.
Director David Frankel has made audiences sob before with Marley & Me. He also directed The Devil Wears Prada, which is more my style. I don’t think Collateral Beauty will be the new Christmas movie classic, but it will absolutely touch the hearts of those looking for something to make them feel all warm and cozy inside. There’s a bit of the Hallmark Channel sentimentality to it but with A-list Oscar winners in it’s cast. I can see many people walking out of this movie with tears in their eyes. That didn’t happen to me, but it is rare when I cry at a movie. If you aren’t in the mood, you will grumble your way through this movie at its attempt at twists and lack of answers at times.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Only if you want a sappy movie for the holidays.
RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS