Director: David Frankel
Cast: Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, Kiera Knightley, Naomi Harris, Michael Pena
It’s that time of the year again! Christmas bells are ringing, lights are shining and everyone’s pulled out their ugliest sweaters. What’s’ missing now is a Christmas movie. So, here comes Will Smith in a red Santa suit bearing Collateral Beauty, the perfect holiday movie about dying children. Isn’t that something to spread the cheer?
Director Davil Frankel, who made us sob about a dying dog in Marley and Me, could not even manage a sniffle out of the audience in this film about parents grieving for their dead children. Even with a cast that boasts of some of the best actors of our generation – Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Helen Mirren and Kiera Knightley – Collateral Beauty exhibits a disappointing waste of talent like nothing we have ever seen before.
You start doubting the intention of the film at the beginning itself. Smith, who plays an ad guru, lost his young daughter three years ago but the grieving period, much to the discomfort of his colleagues and ‘friends’ Norton, Winslet and Pena, is still not over. He is unable to function properly and even run his company any longer. So, his ‘friends’ decide that they should hire actors, played by Mirren, Knightley and Jacob Latimore, to personify Death, Love and Time respectively. They will meet Smith and give him a pep talk to let him get a grip on his life again. If push comes to shove, they will make videos of him talking to them in public spaces and edit out the actors, making him look like a lunatic and telling the company directors that he is mentally incapable to head the company anymore. Did I say these guys are supposed to be his ‘friends’?
Their cruel intentions are for some reason disregarded as a friendly concern when all of the drama could’ve simply been avoided by just sitting down the guy and telling him, “Dude, I am dying, people need jobs, stop being selfish and help us out here please”. Instead, the supporting cast is given subplots that add nothing to the film. A woman wants to be a mother, another character gives her some really complicated pep talk and we don’t even know if she understood a thing. A man is told he should tell his family that he is dying and he does it. Why is this a radical thought? Why did this deserve a subplot of its own? Another man’s daughter wants nothing to do with him but turns out all she needed was to be told that the father really wants her in his life. What? Was it really that simple?
The tonal incoherence of Collateral Beauty makes one feel like watching two separate movies cruelly merged into one. On one hand, you have the acutely depressed Smith, so burdened with loss that he is unable to function. He dials up the emotional reaction to 110% for each frame that he steps in. Then there’s a goofy Mirren and a slightly-douche baggy Norton. It seems like the actors were not given a clear directive on whether the film was supposed to be a light-hearted piece or an all out, heart-rendering sob-fest.
The major characters are so one dimensional that the only human connection we feel is with the extras in the support group talking about their loss with Naomie Harris, the leader. Her reactions and emotions are raw and contained and don’t come out rightly lusting for an Oscar which is more than I can say for Smith.
Then we come to the ending, the rotten cherry on this soggy Christmas cake. They went in for a full M Night Shyamalan overdrive for a climax that could totally do without it. The desperation to make something out of nothing was spilling over in the twist that didn’t fit with the film we just spent an hour and a half breaking our heads over.
Do better Will Smith. You deserve so much better. We deserve so much better.
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