A Story of Love, Death, and Time
It is awards season in Hollywood with the Film Critics Society, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, and others already announcing their nominations and, in some cases, their winners. It seems that every year around this time there is a movie that comes along which seems to be trying a little too hard to garner awards attention. This year, that role is being played by the Will Smith weepie Collateral Beauty. The December release date, holiday season setting, and plot similarities to both It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol suggest that it is also aiming to become another holiday favorite. But all that proves to be a little too much for the movie’s plate.
Smith stars as Howard, a formerly powerful ad executive who has retreated from life following the tragic death of his young daughter. His friends and business partners are worried about him, but they are worried about their own futures as well. They are hoping to sell the floundering company to a heavy bidder, but know that Howard is the key as the firm’s majority share holder.
After hiring a private investigator, they learn that Howard has been writing letters to the abstractions love, death, and time. When one of his friends stumbles upon a struggling acting troupe, he hires them to portray these abstractions and present themselves to Howard as if they were figments of his imagination. He believes they could use this to prove to the Board that Howard is not mentally fit to vote on the sale, while also maybe helping Howard find some peace in the process.
The film’s cast would be the envy of any movie. In addition to Smith, the movie features Oscar winners Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren, along with Oscar nominees Edward Norton and Keira Knightley. Additionally, the movie stars Naomie Harris, who is very likely to earn an Oscar nomination this year for her performance in Moonlight. That’s already an all-star cast and I haven’t even mentioned Michael Pena and Jacob Latimore.
Every actor delivers the kind of performances we have come to expect from them with Smith and Mirren being the standouts, but the great cast is failed by a lackluster storyline and somewhat tedious plotting. There are a couple of reveals that are intended to be big plot twists in the final act, but the moments fall flat because they were so easily predicted in the first half of the movie. The lack of surprise from those revelations really undercuts the emotional impact of the dramatic reveals. And when a movie like this lacks a genuine emotional punch, the result is a movie that feels overtly sappy.
The movie did pull on my heartstrings a little in the finale, but even that did not feel earned by the movie. It felt more like my body mirroring the emotion being shown on screen by Will Smith the actor rather than identifying with the pain being felt by his character. As such, even that little bit of emotion felt hollow.
Collateral Beauty tries hard and the basic idea of the plot is an intriguing one, but the execution unfortunately falls flat. It might make for a good movie to stumble across on television during future holiday seasons and watched in pieces, but it will certainly fall short of its awards and holiday staple ambitions.
Collateral Beauty is rated PG-13 for “thematic elements and brief strong language.” When Will Smith very obviously substitutes other words for cuss words, it is clear that this movie was very aware of its rating which is ultimately appropriate.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Collateral Beauty.