Normally when a film comes out in mid-December with a cast full of movie stars and a vaguely philosophical name, it’s either a Christmas movie or an Oscar bid. Collateral Beauty makes a play for both, a move that could have been bold had it been the first holiday film to have genuine pedigree in decades. Instead, director David Frankel falls back on the most tired tropes of both holiday flicks and award bait, dragging down a promising premise and an impossibly talented cast.
PG-13, 97 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
Collateral Beauty tells the story of Howard (Will Smith), founder and CEO of a successful marketing startup who becomes a shell of his former self following the death of his young daughter. Two years into his descent, he spends his time making elaborate domino designs in his office while writing letters to love, death and time—the three “abstractions” on which he once based his marketing philosophy and by which he now feels betrayed. He never manages to do any work in the meantime, a fact that concerns the other executives of the company (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña), who hire actors to embody Love (Keira Knightley), Death (Helen Mirren) and Time (Jacob Latimore) in order to reach Howard, to both save the company and ease his suffering.
Where this goes from here might be a surprise if you’ve never seen a movie before; it turns out that the three executives have problems in their own lives that require solutions rooted in a deeper appreciation of love (reconnecting with an estranged daughter), death (accepting a terminal illness) and time (something about a biological clock, this one doesn’t add up to much). When Collateral Beauty does occasionally work, it’s thanks to the spectacular cast adding depth to the broad-yet-shallow emotions in the script, leading the viewer to believe that this all might arrive somewhere worthwhile.
Interestingly, the least involved plot thread in Collateral Beauty is Howard’s, primarily because his entire journey leads to a twist instead of the resolution it so desperately needs. A fitting resolution would have been the consequence of the actions made by the characters during the audience’s journey with them, while a twist reduces all sophistication and complexity so the filmmakers can avoid confronting the difficult moral questions they raise. All of the heady dialogue and weighty themes boil down to a good cry and a hug after an infuriatingly simple wrap-up.
Collateral Beauty is the sort of movie where you can see the gears turning in the heads of the producers in real time—big star with a dead kid, lots of crying, pop philosophy and a twist ending. The subplots are the star of the show—they should have been more prominent and needed the most attention. The whole thing would have benefited by exploring the idea that the actors may themselves be supernatural instead of outright broadcasting it as soon as possible (if you consider that a spoiler, you need to get out more). That Collateral Beauty is not very good may not be a surprise to most, but its wasted potential makes it all the more disappointing than your average bad movie.
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Arrival, Assassin’s Creed, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Manchester by the Sea, Moana, Nocturnal Animals, Office Christmas Party, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Manchester by the Sea, Moana, Office Christmas Party, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story