By Jack Dignan
Sounding smart isn’t the same as being smart. You can say every supposedly profound and interesting thought that someone else somewhere has said, but it doesn’t make you any more important or interesting. Collateral Beauty, unfortunately, doesn’t understand this. It’s a film so determined on being an intelligent tearjerker that it barely even constitutes as a movie, and shockingly, that isn’t even the worst thing about this film.
While Collateral Beauty was advertised as an emotional drama centered on Will Smith’s character, this is not the case at all. In fact, Will Smith isn’t even the main character of this movie, as we actually follow the story of his best friend and business partner, Whit (Edward Norton). It’s been two years since Howard’s (Will Smith) daughter died, and ever since then he’s been in a constant state of grief, so much so that it’s going to jeopardize his company and get everybody fired. Whit, with the help of Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena), decide to do something about this, hiring actors to play the roles of Love (Keira Knightley), Death (Helen Miren) and Time (Jacob Latimore) in the hopes of tricking Howard into moving on and leaving his company behind. Yeah… Unfortunately that’s not a joke.
I’m not even sure if this movie knows what it was trying to achieve. It’s a manipulative, slow and cynical film that’s trying to disguise itself as an uplifting artsy drama. It doesn’t achieve its desired goals, and the final product is almost unbearably bad in nature. It tries to look at grief through the perspective of those around the person suffering, yet it’s condescending in nature, pathetically executed and depressingly boring. The film’s plot is one big pile of shit, and a disrespectful one at that.
The film fails in every aspect to gain emotional investment in any of the characters, and it goes on to treat them with no dignity whatsoever. The characters presented are not nice people, and there’s not a single moment where they seem troubled by what they’re doing. Well, with the exception of one out of place moment that’s soon forgotten and moved on from. Will Smith’s daughter died, and while that creates automatic empathy with him, there’s nothing about his character either that’s remotely compelling. He is, as with every cast member, two dimensional and distant from the audience.
Even the actors taking on the roles of Love, Death and Time don’t come across as nice people, but hey, I suppose they’re less bad than the actual protagonists. Collateral Beauty insists on throwing in several twists throughout, a few of which relate back to these actors, and each one just got weirder and weirder. The plot is complete garbage, never making an ounce of sense. It even goes so far as to end the film with one final, stupid and nonsensical plot twist that’s under explained and far from believable. Ever heard of the saying ‘simple is best’? Clearly this film didn’t.
Granted, it did have the potential to create a great movie. All the pieces were placed perfectly and well-aligned in order to make something that could’ve been an Oscar winner, rather than a failed Oscar bait. If the premise was taken in a different direction, the characters were fleshed out a bit more, and everything wasn’t so insulting and manipulative, this could’ve been a really good movie. There are so many simple, easily avoidable things that could’ve been fixed in order to create a better film that just don’t happen. How so many talented people looked at the screenplay and said, “Yeah, this will be a good film,” will forever be a mystery.
On the bright side, the film’s performances are all shockingly great for a film as bad as this one. To be fair, the cast members involved are all immensely talented and several of which are Oscar winners, so this shouldn’t really come of any surprise. For the most part, the performances work, but if this proves anything, it proves that they’re all great criers, as that’s about all they do the entire film. They cry, they complain and they state “meaningful” things to one another. It’s awful, yet the actors give it their all and they pull through. Too bad they’re all way too good for what this movie actually is.
To sum up, Collateral Beauty only just came out this weekend here in Australia, fitting as it was just Friday the 13th, but if I had seen it last year, there’s a 100% guarantee it would’ve made it onto my 10 Worst Films of the Year. Manipulative, boring and stupid, it’s a film with potential left unfulfilled.
1 1/2 Stars
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