The attempt this movie tries to make, trying to define the 3 main abstractions of life: the search for love, the desire for more time and the fear of death is extremely ambitious, perhaps too ambitious. One problem with a film like “Collateral Beauty” is no matter how you approach 3 such difficult and abstract subjects as a writer or a director or even an actor, you run the huge risk of sounding like you are preaching your beliefs to other people. All of us, no matter how rich or poor, or fortunate or unfortunate has to reach conclusions and rationalizations about life that work for us and no movie, writer or even religious counselor can reach these conclusions for you. The other ambitious part of this movie is that it has many many twists, turns and symbolism, some of which work and some not only don’t work but make no sense and could be considered absurd.
Will Smith plays Howard, who is the head of an advertising firm in New York and at the start of this movie he is full of life and enthusiasm about his work with this colleagues and business partner played by Edward Norton. The next scene jumps to 3 years later and Howard is a shell of his former self, almost like a zombie barely talking to anyone and building strange structures with dominoes and then knocking them over. The reason for his insane behavior is understandable as we soon learn that his only daughter has died and later in the film we find out that he was divorced because of his daughter’s death and that 79% of all couples divorce after their child has died. Like the recent and great movie “Manchester By The Sea”, also reviewed in this blog, the grief that the character Howard shows in this film is manifested by zombie-like behavior and occasionally lashing out at the world with anger. This part of Will Smith’s acting in this movie works very well and is believable, but what is not believable is the strange scam his 3 friends play on him to not only try to knock him out of his 2 years of depression but also in the process try to save their failing advertising firm. In my opinion, this strange scam his friends play on him is another attempt by a screenwriter to try something new and unique and in the process, an unusual storyline is created that does not work. Why this idea didn’t work for me is that the scam they played to help their friend, comes off as more cruel than helpful and there is no way what they tried to do would ever work in the first place. I have noticed more than a few reviews on the internet about this film are very negative, including the overall score on IMDB at only 5.3 and the very low score on Rotten Tomatoes. In my opinion, the reason why some of the opinions are so low is because so much of what is trying to be unique and innovative in this film comes off as either not making sense, or downright ridiculous.
The ending of this film definitely did surprise me but there is a second surprise ending that for me was another example of something that was illogical and just didn’t make any sense, considering the linear sequence of events that lead to the ending. The problem with screenwriting in recent movies I have seen is that when you try and write something that is new and unique, you run the risk of thinking of things that ultimately in real life just doesn’t make any sense. A much better example of a film trying to deal with horrible grief and the loss of a child is the movie “Manchester by the Sea”, which has no far-fetched story at all and everything is believable. The point here is that, what is run of the mill and real life and perhaps done before in some way, can still be a great movie. It’s OK to be different, but this can be taken too far.
The term “Collateral Beauty” is also never really explained and considering this movie is mostly about the horrible grief following the death of a child, how can anyone preach to notice collateral beauty when being faced with life ending grief. On top of this, the person who talks about collateral beauty at the end of the movie is part of the surprise ending that makes no real logical sense. This second surprise ending is probably one of the several reasons why so many reviews for this movie are bad.
I did not think that this movie was necessarily bad. But because of the many flaws and lack of any logic with so many plot points, this is not a good movie either. At best, this film is average but could have been great if they just cut out the several different insane plot points. The acting is overall good, and includes Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and
Michael Peña, so it’s a shame there were so many mistakes made in this story. For all of these reasons, I cannot either recommend or completely reject this film.