Movie Review: ‘Collateral Beauty’
Director: David Frankel
Cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren
Plot: Howard Intel runs a successful advertising agency, but is devastated by the death of his young daughter. After two years his agency is about to go bust and in order to protect the company and the workers his colleagues hire actors to appear to him as Death, Love and Time to bring him back to reality.
Review: That is the shortest summary I can manage with this movie, and it makes it sound like a stupid, mean-spirited rehash of A Christmas Carol, which on reflection isn’t entirely inaccurate. If you don’t want to read the rest of the review I’ll sum up by saying that this is the first review screening I’ve been to where the critics have heckled the movie. I’m also going to spoil the entire movie because it’s hard to explain how bonkers it is without revealing the whole thing. Don’t worry, it’s not worth seeing.
Let’s break down the plot because this is where the problems really begin. Howard (Smith) is destroying his company because he has completely withdrawn and spent 6 months making domino structures in his office. His closest friends (Norton, Winslet and Peña) decide that in the face of everyone becoming unemployed they should hire and private detective to gather evidence to declare Howard incompetent to remove his vote from the board and save the company. This all takes place at Christmas because they want this to be a ‘Christmas Miracle’ story.
So this old lady Mormon detective (they dwelt on this fact) sees Howard mailing letters and, after stopping to take a photo of the public mailbox he used (for…reasons), she steals the letters from the mail. She shows them to the Nefarious Trio and reveal they are angry hate mail written to the abstract concepts of Love, Time and Death. This, coupled with his 6 months of dominos in the office, cutting off all phone and internet and riding his bike headlong into traffic IS NOT enough to declare him mentally incompetent.
Time for a plan. The Trio plot to…and this is really the main narrative of the film…hire a couple of theatre actors to PRETEND TO BE LOVE, DEATH AND TIME and angrily confront him about the letters. So they do that and he actually believes it.
This is already bullshit and stupid, but the film splinters into various subplots. Peña is hanging out with ‘Death’ (Mirren) and she deduces that he’s dying from cancer. His character arc ends with him being convinced that he should tell his soon-to-be widow and single parent about this because of why haven’t you done that yet what the hell buddy.
Winslet is hanging out with ‘Time’ and her plot thread concerns finding a sperm donor because she spent her time building the company instead of starting a family (it’s one or the other, people). We know this because she spends her work hours sitting at a giant computer screen looking up sperm donor sites in the middle of an open plan office and leaving brochures about it on her desk and then acts like people are butting in on her private business when they bring it up. The message at the end of her arc is that she should accept that she’s not having a family for…reasons?
Finally, Norton. His character is a divorcee whose daughter doesn’t want to speak to him because he broke her mother’s heart. He hangs out with ‘Love’ (Knightley), and quite fancies her. He expresses this by following her down the street, finding out from friends where she’ll be and turning up unexpectedly, offering her increasing amounts of money to hang around with him and pestering her for a date long after being rejected. In short, he’s a stalker. His moral? He needs to FORCE himself back into his daughter’s life. Yes, really. His message is ‘be more of a stalker’.
Meanwhile, Howard’s encounters has lead him to attend a support group for parents who lost their children and enters into a very, very awkward romantic subplot with the group’s leader (Harris). All they talk about is their dead children, with Howard refusing to say his daughter’s name or talk about her death. She encourages Howard to ‘angrily confront’ these three mythical characters who have appeared in his life. So he does that, hurling verbal and physical abuse at them.
This is when the Trio film the confrontations and perfectly, almost magically, delete their actors from the video so it looks like he’s yelling at invisible people. Why? How? Doesn’t matter. When they confront him with the footage in front of the company board he immediately calls them on their bullshit, somehow perfectly guessing what they did. And they immediately confess, so he lays down some life lessons and leaves. What the hell just happened?
Oh, but the movie doesn’t stop there. Howard turns up at the house of the support group leader and we learn…hang on…that she’s his wife. Yes, really. She’s been playing along with this idea that they’re meeting again as strangers so they can start over. A critic actually shouted, “oh, bullshit” during this reveal. But the movie didn’t stop there. Oh no…
It’s then revealed that the actors playing Time, Death and Love aren’t actors…they ARE Time, Death and Love! Seriously! The plot was complete lunacy already, this ‘twist’ beggars belief. It doesn’t change the movie or the character arcs in the slightest, it’s just complete madness that this movie got released with this idiotic concept intact.
This movie is a mess. It’s dumb, and it’s got a terrible moral. It’s so earnestly, desperately trying to be a modern take on It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol and fails completely. None of the characters act like normal human beings, the plot is a convoluted bucket of loose threads and…it’s really stupid. They spend so, so long on exposition trying to make the whole scheme with the actors feel logical but it’s just idiotic. And if they’re not really actors, why pretend to be actors? We’re they just hoping Norton would come up with the lunatic idea of hiring actors to play abstract concepts to confront his partner to snap him out of his grief and declare him incompetent? Because who would think of that????
Is there anything positive to say? Yes. Helen Mirren is on point, as usual, and is lots of fun pretending to be Death. One star for Helen Mirren.
Collateral Beauty is going to provide us with plenty of comedy moving forward. It’s a contender for the Ten Worst Christmas movies. Personally I’m looking forward to the Nostalgia Critic doing a video on it. This movie murdered my Christmas spirit, so I’m watching Miracle on 34th Street while writing this review to get it back.
Rating: TWO out of TEN