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Collateral Beauty, directed by David Frankel, is a heartfelt, brilliant drama that delves deep into the very heart of what it means to be human, ignites the imagination and makes you look at the world around you like you’ve never seen it before – or, at least that’s what it was aiming for. Unfortunately, it’s actually a trainwreck of staggering proportions.
Howard Inlet (Will Smith) is a successful advertising executive who is grieving after the death of his six-year-old daughter. He retreats from his life and his friends, risking the future of the company in the process. His “best friends” Whit (Edward Norton), Simon (Michael Peña) and Claire (Kate Winslet), decide that the only possible course of action is to prove that he’s too mentally unstable to make decisions about the company. The lovely people that they are hire a private detective to spy on Howard and find out he’s been writing letters – not to people, but to abstractions: Death, Love and Time. From there, the most sensible and tactful thing to do is to hire three actors (Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore) to pretend to be Death, Love and Time in front of Howard, hoping that will trigger a visible reaction that they can use as proof of his insanity.
Needless to say, all of these characters are horrible people. Howard’s grief is understandable, but he’s clearly unfit to still be running the company. This is a guy that has cut himself off from the world, literally spends his days sitting at a dog park and his nights either standing in a dark, empty room or driving a bike into oncoming traffic (because that’s a thing). He should have stepped down or be made to step down ages ago so that he can have time to process his grief without jeopardizing the careers and future of his friends and employees. His friends are horrible people because even though they openly acknowledge how shady, awful and plain selfish their plan is, they still go through with it.
It doesn’t help that every single performance in this movie is awful. All the actors have a very particulate flavor of bad that they decided to bring. Edward Norton and Kate Winslet went with “I’ll say the line as if I’m reading them for the first time”, but while Winslet sounds like she’s trying to get through them as quick as possible, Norton drags it out, letting his own embarrassment at the words coming out of his mouth sink in. Michael Peña decided to act, but only at about 5% of what he’s actually capable of. The best bad performance is Will Smith, who has the perpetual look of someone who just realized this movie was not a good idea – the result is a beautifully inconsistent performance that’s somehow both sincere and phoned in.
The writing is unbearably cheesy, ripe with platitudes and purple prose. Every once in a while, a really stupid line will catch you off guard and give you a nasty jolt but most is the just bottom of the barrel sugar coated nonsense. The symbolism is overbearing and transparent – turns out Howard’s friends were all coincidentally dealing with singular issues of Death, Love and Time themselves! The dominoes symbolize everything falling to pieces but also starting over – and the whole thing is just embarrassingly contrived.
Collateral Beauty’s crowning achievement of stupidity is a double-act of dumb in the final scenes. Two twists, both incredibly forced and cringeworthy that make the impossible possible – they make the movie even worse than it already was. One I won’t spoil, but the other, I’ll give away to spare you the pain: turns out the actors really were Death, Love and Time all along! Yep. It’s that kind of movie.
I could go into more detail, as practically every single scene has something incredibly dumb worth talking about, but the bottom line is this – Collateral Beauty is not very good. Like, at all. It’s actually shockingly bad. The score is 1/10 only because that’s as low as the scale goes on this site. Avoid it at all costs.