Overstuffed in its dramatics and suffocating thick with pretension, Collateral Beauty proves once again that big name acting ensembles do not equate to a good movie.
Third Person. The Air I Breathe. Seven Pounds. What all these films have in common is that despite their stacked casts, the films themselves are bottom of the barrel bad. Often it comes down to the fact that actors find themselves looking for that one “meaningful”, “spiritual”, “we’re all connected” story that gives credence to their profession. Instead they have signed on to a project that while good on paper, is mind-bogglingly wretched in execution. Let’s call it the “Crash phenomenon”, where everyone tries to repeat the Paul Haggis multi-character, multi-narrative, all important issue Oscar winner, yet fails miserably. Hell, even Haggis himself is struggling to repeat his lightning in a bottle feat!
Enter Collateral Beauty. Even the titles itself yells “pretentious dramatics ahead!” The film stars Will Smith as Howard, a senior partner at a hip and happening advertising firm whose once idyllic existence is shattered by the death of his young daughter. While a permanently mopey Howard wastes his days building ridiculous constructions out of domino blocks, his friends and business partners Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Pena) hatch a plan to hire an acting troupe consisting of Amy (Keira Knightley), Raffi (Jacob Latimore) and Brigette (Helen Mirren) to snap him out of his destructive funk. How, you ask? By masquerading as Love, Time, and Death, who Howard writes letters to everyday as a form of self-therapy, because of course this is what Hollywood thinks normal people do.
Evoking the likes of Charles Dickens yet without the wit or intelligence, and Frank Capra bar the necessary charm, Collateral Beauty is a film that substitutes the necessary elements of personality and tangible emotion for overblown, new-age schmaltz, that manages to pull off the feat of being pompous and stale at the same time.
Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) has made a career of delivering films anchored on sentimentality, yet they also had a certain charm that levelled things out. With Allan Loeb’s (Things We Lost in the Fire) incredibly mawkish, gaudy to the point of ludicrous screenplay as guide, no such balance can be found. Certainly not from its cast, perhaps the most impressive assemblage of talent seen on screen in some time, who despite their talents are simply weighed down by the suffocating waves of pretention that comes crashing down at every given moments in this (thankfully) 90 minute Hallmark commercial.
The only collateral that’s important to assess with Collateral Beauty is that which will harm the careers of every person involved in this dreck.