If someone were to see a trailer for the movie "Collateral Beauty," they would probably assume that it's a realistic fantasy film about a man coping with his daughter’s death by having conversations with Death, Time and Love. This is not true. To disclose the real plot would almost be a spoiler in and of itself, so it has to be left at this: “Collateral Beauty” is a movie about awful people doing awful things to a man for awful reasons. That somehow only manages to scratch the surface of what is wrong with this film.
Even if one were able to get past this facade for the sake of getting an audience it wouldn’t get otherwise, the rest of “Collateral Beauty” hardly does itself any favors. The last act of this film packs in two of the most spectacularly ill-advised twists in recent memory. A good twist is hinted at throughout the movie but still hard to see coming. It contributes added depth to additional viewings. There is none of this in “Collateral Beauty” because to even hint at these twists would push the movie into the realm of unintentional comedy, and director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”) wisely decided to save that for the third act, presumably to minimize audience walkouts.
The lazy and/or nonsensical plotting might have been forgivable or at least overlooked if there were likeable characters to latch on to, but as was mentioned before, there’s none of that either. Contrary to what the trailers and posters may have implied, the movie doesn’t center around Howard (Will Smith, “Men in Black”) as much as it does his friends, Whit (Edward Norton, “Birdman”), Simon (Michael Peña, “The Martian”) and Claire (Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs”). “Collateral Beauty” desperately wants its audience to believe that these people are Howard’s best friends and that they care about his wellbeing but every action they make says otherwise. What arcs they have are cliché, bland, and unfocused, so even when they aren’t unlikeable, they’re simply boring.
None of the blame for this can be said to rest on the all-star cast, though. Will Smith absolutely shines as Howard in a movie that doesn’t deserve him. The scene-stealer here, though, is without a doubt Helen Mirren (“Eye in the Sky”), who was cast as the physical manifestation of Death in a stroke of casting genius. Her scenes are never as touching and poignant as the movie thinks they are, but they’re at least something approaching funny, and Mirren manages to add wit and likability to her part which is more than can be said for the rest of the characters. Everyone on screen is doing their best, but they can’t save this script.
Ultimately, the biggest problem that “Collateral Beauty” faces is that it truly thinks it is saying something different. It thinks it is a work of genius that will be used for years to come to help grieving parents. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether the fault lies with Frankel or screenwriter Allan Loeb (“The Switch”), the movie they have created together mostly peddles the same overly sentimental messages that movies like this usually do. The difference here is that the combination of repellent characters and laughter-inducing twists are borderline offensive to those who have lost a child. Based on its cast, “Collateral Beauty” could have and should have been the exemplification of the “touching holiday movie.” Instead, it settles for being some of the worst the genre has to offer.