Each Holiday season is littered with a vast array of films for viewers to choose from. Expectedly, there is usually a highly anticipated box office smash, a potential award season hit, and plenty of “fillers” to keep holiday movie goers of all kinds satisfied. Yet, it is the potential holiday heart-warmer that many find themselves drawn to, not only while in theaters, but in many years to follow.
Walking into my viewing of Collateral Beauty, I had hoped that this would be one of those films – a treasured gem like Love Actually, The Santa Clause and It’s a Wonderful Life. Presented through its trailer as a modernized adaptation of the Charles Dickens‘ classic, A Christmas Carol, Collateral Beauty sadly failed to deliver on the hopes of viewers and the story-lines that it attempted to tackle.
In under fifteen minutes, viewers will find themselves distracted from the story, attempting to figure out who the film is really about and what information they should be paying attention to. The film interlaces the lives of several individuals throughout its length, which if done correctly, would have found love and success amongst viewers. Films such as Crash and Love Actually are exemplary examples of how this formula not only works, but is a hit with moviegoers.
Howard, played by Will Smith, is living in a moment, unable to move forward and slowly allowing the things around him to slip away. He is lost in the unbearable tragedy of the death of his daughter three years earlier, and his life is now a hollowed-out routine filled with silence, solitude, and dominoes. Yet, while he has remained frozen in time, the world around has continued on without him.
Faced with the inevitable loss of a critical account to the company, his colleagues and friends are forced to begin accessing what his control of the business and his current state of mind are costing them all. They begin devising a plan to declare him incompetent to their board, reaching out to a private detective to seek out what could become incriminating evidence. All seems lost when the only potential affirmation of his incompetence are three letters Howard had therapeutically mailed to Death, Time, and Love.
Inspired by the letters, Whit, played by Edward Norton, and his colleagues hire a small troupe of actors, enlisting each of them to become the personification of Death, Time, and Love. Yet, as each actor is paired off with a colleague to prepare them for their task, it becomes apparent that Howard is not the only one who is grappling with a sense of loss and immobility. Whit struggles with the loss of his daughter’s love, unsure how to rekindle the connection between father and daughter. Claire, played by Kate Winslet, feels the unstoppable countdown of her biological clock and that her time to start a family is running out. Simon, played by Michael Peña, is forced to admit that his lifelong battle with cancer is a war he has finally lost – a secret even his family has been left in the dark about.
Through their relentless and morally questionable task of manipulating the board, these three individuals, as well as Howard, find themselves on a path to redemption, recovery and peace.
Lack of Depth and the Assumption of Ignorance
Collateral Beauty had so much potential – one of the most frustrating things about watching this film was seeing the wasted potential it had. There was a sweet and heartwarming story with all the chances for wonderment and mysticism in every reveal. Instead, what was presented to viewers was flat, lacking the depth it required and assuming that each element of storytelling would be easily lost on its audience if not made blatantly obvious.
From the moment Whit meets the troupe of actors, the body language between them is anything but subtle, immediately giving it away to the audience that they are the characters they will soon be enlisted to personify. While the film quickly tries to recover from this obvious reveal, it fails to redeem itself, eventually giving in and instead providing more transparent clues to the audience that will validate the film’s closing scene.
This is only one of many examples of the simplistic and predictable film that played out for viewers. Every twist, turn, and reveal was a foreseeable element that viewers couldn’t miss even if they tried. The epic reveal that Collateral Beauty leads up to for one of its final scenes would have been one critics and viewers might have consistently talked about after seeing the film. Yet, instead of dribbling clues and working the viewers up to this dramatic reveal, a cinematic decision was made to make sure everything was blatantly obvious – long before the movie had ended.
The Actor’s Guild
The performances and their effectiveness were lost within the story of this film. Each character’s motives and characteristics were made to be unmistakable to viewers, taking away any depth and leaving little room to build upon them. So much so, many viewers may leave the theatre asking, “What was the point?”
The performances by Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña would have been strong if they hadn’t been swallowed up in the lack of depth and strength of this film. Their characters had the potential to be something great, something to be remembered – yet without a solid foundation they were lost in the wind.
The only redeeming aspect of this film was the performance delivered by Will Smith. Having a career strongly built upon action-based characters, it is a pleasure to not only see Smith continue to branch out from this norm, but succeed at the task as well. The heartbreak and solidarity that he radiates throughout the film will reach past all the mess the film has created, and will stay with you. In the beginning of the film, his character, Howard, barely speaks – if at all. Everything Will Smith communicates is accurately depicted through his expression and body language – his performance is the collateral beauty of the movie. If only a performance could save a film.
The Collateral Beauty
Within the film, the characters are on a journey to find the beauty in even the most tragic of situations. It is the theme of this movie and meant to become the motivating force in the darkest of times. Each of the characters has some darkness, regret, or tragedy that is slowly overtaking their lives and their actions. By discovering the collateral beauty in each of their own individual situations, they can find peace and maybe even the answers on what the next step in their lives could be.
Initially, walking out of the film, I couldn’t find any beauty in what I had just seen. Confused by the title and brushing the thought aside, I continued discussing all of what was wrong with this film. Yet, as much as Collateral Beauty failed to be executed as promised, I kept feeling myself returning to the title and the theme of this story. Finally, I realized that the theme itself is the collateral beauty of this film, along with the performance of Will Smith. While it had been a disappointment, there was still beauty to behold after the film had concluded.
Collateral Beauty had the potential to be something great, yet even with a stellar cast and a seemingly heartwarming idea, the film failed to deliver what it promised its viewers. The film assumed the ignorance of viewers too much, making each element and twist blatantly obvious to the audience and draining every ounce of depth it could have achieved.
While Will Smith‘s performance was on point and possibly one of his best, it was not enough to save this film. Viewers will leave feeling robbed of an experience, yet if they let the theme ring true – there may be a small chance to see that there is a hint of beauty – the Collateral Beauty.
Have you see Collateral Beauty? Tell us what you thought in the comments below!
Collateral Beauty was released in the United States on December 16, 2016 and will be released in the UK on December 26, 2016. For all international release dates, see here.