Movie Review – Collateral Beauty
This is the fourth film in the space of a month that is about a person dealing with the loss of a loved one. It’s the third about a parent handling the death of a child. With the exception of Jackie, which is about the former First Lady in the wake of JFK’s assassination, the other two films of relevance are Arrival, which focuses on a mother losing her daughter, and Manchester By the Sea, which is similar to here about a grieving father. The major difference between those aforementioned films and this one is how the parent here is unable to function, even years later. It’s certainly unfair to say how a person should grieve or how he should feel about the death of his child unless that person is hurting others or himself, but the problem with this movie’s portrayal of his grief is that the movie never invites us into his head to help us understand his behavior and actions. Arrival and Manchester By the Sea invite us into the protagonist’s head. This one doesn’t.
Will Smith (Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness) stars as Howard, the owner of an ad agency who becomes a recluse and a mute after his 6-year-old daughter dies of cancer. For a large chunk of the movie, he’s not seen or heard. This is probably the second film that has Will Smith as the protagonist in which he only has 50-percent or less of the screen time. The first film that does that is arguably After Earth, and like that M. Night Shyamalan movie, this one fails because it reduces Will Smith’s role and doesn’t allow him to shine as the charismatic star that he is.
This movie is more of an ensemble, which Smith’s last film that came out over the summer also was. David Ayer, however, didn’t have a script that stifled Smith. Suicide Squad allowed Smith to be bold among a line-up of colorful characters. He was also never shuffled into the background. Yet, he’s shuffled into the background here.
Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña are pushed to the forefront and the movie becomes more about them. Norton plays Whit, a philanderer trying to reconnect with his teenage daughter who hates him. Winslet plays Claire, a woman who wants to have a baby but fears she might be too old. Peña plays Simon, a married man with a child but he’s dying of cancer himself.
The screenplay by Allan Loeb (21 and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) could have juxtaposed the issues of those three people who are supposed to be friends of Howard with Howard’s issue. Yet, Loeb’s script insists that Smith be mute and not interact with them. Loeb’s script never bridges that gap, so it feels like there are at least three different stories happening that are too separate to be fused together. There’s the story Howard is in and there are the story of Whit and his daughter, as well as the story of Simon and his cancer. Claire is given short shrift, but the three stories never gel.
The reason they don’t gel is because of the wall that Loeb’s script builds around Howard, a wall made of dominoes, literal dominoes. That wall hinders the ridiculous plot that follows, which Loeb could have overcome if he had taken down that wall and had Howard interact more openly with the rest of the cast. Loeb complicates it with more characters heaped on top.
Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jacob Lattimore are tossed into the mix to be foils for Peña, Norton and Winslet respectively. It all comes across very clunkily. Directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me), it’s all too much to juggle, too much that we lose sight of Smith’s character, almost to the point of not caring about him any more, certainly not to the point of getting inside his head. Basically, he’s sad and he has to say his dead daughter’s name in order to get over it.
There is a supernatural element to it that doesn’t reveal itself until the end like a Shyamalan twist, which might have attracted Smith to this movie, but it feels like a twist tagged on the end just to have a twist, not because it was organic or even integral to the narrative. Without the twist, this movie is just a less-than-average holiday film, nothing memorable. If anything, the twist only makes the narrative more nonsensical.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.