Collateral Beauty (2016)

Collateral Beauty poster.png
No Beauty Lies Within Here

Director: David Frankel
Running Time: 97 minutes
Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Michael Peña, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimor, Naomie Harris

The clichés are all here for audiences to endure. Scenes of characters describing saddening scenarios, eyes full of tears, while an overbearing score tells audiences how they should feel. It's all more likely to cause eye rolls than genuine bursts of emotion, but somehow, almost bafflingly so, director David Frankel manages to deliver a picture that's worse than merely emotionally manipulative.

After losing his daughter, advertising exec Howard (Will Smith) shuts off from the world, only communicating by writing letters to the abstract conceptions of Love, Time and Death. His three friends, Whit (Edward Norton), Simon (Michael Peña), and Claire (Kate Winslet), notice how shut off he is, and attempt to help.

Image result for collateral beauty youtubeSpare a thought for Will Smith. The actor, who can get by even the worst of films thanks to his natural charisma, is lacking that one element, leaving him to look as depressingly dull as the picture. The fault can't lie too much on Smith, he's not given a lot to work with, as his characters grief is showcased through putting up dominoes, and riding a bike towards traffic.

Yet, despite being front on centre for the films poster, trailer, and story, Smith is ultimately treated like a supporting character. The lead roles go to Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña, who see how much their long time friend is hurting, and hire three actors to portray the personifications of Love, Death, and Time. Their plan? To make the grieving father look crazy enough to lose his job. 

Yes, you read that right. These people who've known Howard for years and run a business with him, concoct a plan to cause him emotional distress, so they can sell the company. No matter how the script tries to rationalise their actions (and, goodness, does it try), what they're trying to do is downright manipulative and absolutely toxic. Imagine watching Trading Places, but being asked to side with the actions of Brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke.

It's a horrendous scenario to watch unfold, especially when it treats these manipulators as though they're heroes. Not helping things are two twists, one which is obvious from pretty early on, yet both remain undeniably stupid. But when Helen Mirren delivers, with a straight face, dialogue like "Nothing's dead if you look at it right", then there's little hope to find here. By the end of it all, one merely wonders what deep, dark secrets were uncovered, causing such a talented cast to assemble for this unfortunate outcome of a picture.

Collateral Beauty carries an accurate title, as the credits were a most beautiful sight following an absolutely torturous picture. A misguided attempt to force audiences to weep, David Frankel has delivered a picture that's as manipulative to its audience as it is to Will Smith's character.