Sentimentality at its worst.
This film had some possibilities, especially with a very solid if not spectacular performance from Will Smith, but the writing of this was sloppy, the story itself was predictable and at times cruel, and only one of the film’s two twists nailed. Still, this is not as bad as some critics have made it out to be.
Admittedly, this feels as if it would be more at home on Lifetime or Freeform as a TV movie, Collateral Beauty has an A+ cast. Unfortunately, I would say that the cast averages out to a C+ performance.
Howard (Will Smith) is an advertising executive who suffers a great tragedy and loses his daughter to a rare cancer, and find that his life has little meaning. His partners and friends from the agency (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Michael Peña) try to snap him out of his trance in order to save their company by selling it. The problem, they cannot move forward without him (because he has voting rights). So this threesome decide to hire three actors to portray Love, Death and Time after the discovery that Howard has been writing letters to them.
That’s right. Howard’s friends try to gaslight their grieving friend and colleague to make him believe that he is going crazy.
Their cruelty is meant to be offset with their individual personal issues. Whit (Edward Norton) has a daughter who doesn’t want to see him because he cheated on her mother, Claire (Kate Winslet) wonders how long she has before her biological clock stops ticking and Simon (Michael Peña) is dying of cancer.
One of the major problems of this movie is that these people are horrible people and their selfishness is not an excuse for them to pull the manipulation that they do.
The three actors hired by this trio included Helen Mirren as Brigitte, Keira Knightley as Amy and Jacob Latimore as Raffi. These three want their play financed and are willing to do whatever to Howard that is necessary. Amy does show some doubt about the plan, but she does go through with it in the end.
Meanwhile, Howard is struggling with an attempt to go to a grief group filled with other parents who lost a child. Madeleine (Naomi Harris) leads the group and has a bond with Howard almost immediately.
Will Smith is really good here, as he completely envelopes the role, and the relationship with Madeleine seems intriguing and hopeful. I must say that, although I thought Smith was really good for most of the movie, the scenes of him on his bicycle riding around the city making a variety of faces bordered on hilarity. Except for those moments, Smith was excellent.
The same can not be said for some of the other actors in this movie. Edward Norton seemed to be going through the motions and I haven’t seen as poor of a performance from Kate Winselt in a long time. Both of these actors looked to be cashing a paycheck for these roles. Michael Peña was okay, but I had a hard time buying his motives in this movie.
Helen Mirren was her normal solid self. She seemed to be the only one of the three actors, she was hired as Death, to have much of anything. He scenes with Smith were all very good, and she got more out of Peña than expected. Unfortunately, her work was wasted in this garbage story.
There were two surprises at the end of the film. One involved the relationship between Howard and Madeleine, and I thought that was fabulous. I did not see that coming, and it made a nice little bow on that story. However, the second twist was telegraphed so early in this film that it really took away any magic that might have been generated by the movie.
The movie tries really hard to tug on your emotional strings, but all of this baggage felt forced and manipulative. These emotions did not come naturally from the story, but shoehorned into it by weak writing.
A few good performed scenes does not make a good movie, and Collateral Beauty is not one. I heard someone claim that this was the worst movie of the year, but that is not the case. It is not that bad. But it is nowhere near a good movie either. There is no Christmas magic here.