There will be frowning! Oh so much frowning in Collateral Beauty, an overly sentimental, unintentionally hilarious weeper that arrives like an ugly Christmas sweater over the holidays. But like that terrible garment there is some warmth to be found in this tale of love, pain, and emotional healing to those willing to wrap themselves up in it. And with a cast led by Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Naomie Harris, Jacob Latimore, and Keira Knightley most will find it easy to be inspired by a story that owes a lot to It's a Wonderful Life.
Okay, so it's kind of like It's a Wonderful Life meets Demolition, the forgettable Jake Gyllenhaal movie in which he plays a grieving man who destroys stuff to cope. That came out this year, by the way, and you definitely forgot about it. Anyway, Smith plays Howard Inlet, an advertising guru who runs a place that looks like Mad Men if it were taken over by Google. Howard is a Steve Jobs-esque kind of guy, whose ad wizardry is only matched by his gift for puzzling speeches. Mere seconds into the movie he's launched into the first one about the three tenets of success in his business: Love, Death, and Time. "We are all connected" by these things he says. In the time it takes for the camera to pan around, Howard is now all gloom and misery, a barely functioning human being much-less a successful executive. His six year old daughter has died, and Howard is finding it impossible to get beyond it even two years later. He rides around town aimlessly on his bicycle (because manual transportation = the sadness) and only goes into the office to build elaborate domino trails which he promptly knocks down. This guy needs help.
So far so decent. Is it overly sincere already in just the first five minutes? Absolutely, but not intolerably so. That is pushed to the limit soon after, though. Howard's best friends and business partners Whit (Norton), Claire (Winslet), and Simon (Pena) want to sell the company since it's tanking due to their leader's negligence. So they come up with an elaborate scheme that simultaneously is to knock him out of his funk, but also prove he's too mentally unstable to run things. Say what? So after Whit stalks (Because that's what it is) the beautiful and charming Aimee (Knightley) into a creepy, rundown theatre (By all rights he should've been mugged or something), he discovers that she's part of a three-person acting troupe, joined by the hammy Brigitte (Mirren) and street-smart Raffi (Latimore). He convinces them to pose as Time, Love, and Death to shake Howard up. Why? Because they hired an investigator (Ann Dowd in a wasted role) and she discovered he's been writing letters addressed specifically to those three things. Come on, guys, he's only crazy if he's expecting a response!
The rest of the film goes about according to plan. Turns out Howard isn't the only one who is screwed-up, and the three actors turn out to be pretty wise in sussing out the various problems of their employers. Of the three, Whit gets the most time, but most of it is spent as he tries to score a date with Aimee, rather than his ACTUAL dilemma which is reconnecting with an estranged daughter. While there is a lot of lip service paid to the life lessons being learned and grand epiphanies each have, mostly Allan Loeb's screenplay is going through the motions. Any real complications are disposed of fairly easily. For instance, Howard seems to be moving along just fine on his own by attending a support group led by Madeleine (Harris). So what was that whole big plan for, anyway?
Tears are jerked, heartstrings
"We Are All Connected" turns out to be the horrible tagline, which is like sending a flying owl with a letter announcing a major plot contrivance. It happens, you'll see it coming, and some of you may even cry a little bit over the reveal. Collateral Beauty isn't without emotion; far from it. There's simply too much of it for things to play out as easily as they do. That's not how life works. The dominoes just don't fall that way.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5