December 16, 2016 6:14:53 pm
Collateral Beauty movie cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, Naomie Harris
Collateral Beauty movie director: David Frankel
Christmas time, and parents grieving for children who died young. It can’t get more manipulative than that. Or, can it?
Howard (Will Smith) is the kind of legendary Madison Avenue advertising executive whose inspired colleagues define his work as “poetry”, “philosophy”. He himself boils it down to catering to the “three abstractions”, love, time and death, “which connect everyone on Earth”. Then three years happen, and with his daughter dead, Howard is a shell of himself, grieving in silence, and letting the ad firm go to waste. He does so while building elaborate domino structures, over days at a time, which he then destroys with a flick of his hand. Yes, it doesn’t get more symbolic than that.
So his “friends” and partners, Whit, Claire and Simon — Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, all completely wasted here — decide they must record a video that shows him as “mentally unfit to operate”, so that they can sign a profitable deal with an investor. Yes, rarely has a film hanged on a more cruel idea.
So, the three hire actors to play “Death”, “Love” and “Time”, the three abstractions to which Howard has been writing letters to, pouring out his heart and anger, in the hope that he will disintegrate in front of them.
Death, Love and Time come in the homely and available shapes of Brigitte (Helen Mirren), Amy (Keira Knightley) and Raffi (Jacob Latimore), and boy, do they know just what to tell Howard when they run into him. Howard bids love “goodbye”, so Amy tells him how love is the “why” of everything. Howard calls time “dead tissue that won’t decompose”, so Raffi points out how “time gives everything value”. Howard calls Death “middle management”, so Brigitte tells him a story about “life after birth”. Okay, confess, didn’t get that one.
Meanwhile, the film drags in more references to life, birth, rebirth, parenthood, motherhood, which involve almost everyone around Howard, with only Brigitte showing any interest in actually living it up. Harris runs a support group for grieving parents like her and Howard, and since the film is so determined to not let any tears or Christmas go waste, the film makes its way to neatly tied endings through some remarkable twists.
As her daughter lies dying, a wise old woman advises Harris’s Madeline, “Just make sure you notice the collateral beauty.” Like the film, it means little. But the “collateral beauty” reference may be here for a reason. Just make sure you don’t miss the Christmas decorations.
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