What it's about:
When a successful New York advertising executive suffers a great tragedy, he retreats from life. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time, and Death. But, it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully-lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.
What we thought:
On paper, Collateral Beauty sounds like a unique concept that could have postulated some interesting musings about the universe, and it’s no surprise A-listers were attracted to this idea and its interesting-sounding characters. Instead of getting what should have been an art film exploring abstracts as physical entities, we got some cheesy pseudo philosophy crammed into a city rom-com setting, but with more crying. The fault entirely lies with the director and writer, who tried to play it safe instead of taking artistic risks and took the piss out of the audience’s intelligence.
An advertising genius (Will Smith) has checked out of the world after the loss of his daughter and his business partners desperately need him back in the game or they lose their company. After discovering his written letters to the universe, they hire actors to portray Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Love (Keira Knightley) to help them save their company.
The only thing that makes this watchable is the cast themselves – all amazing performers with a few Academy nominations and wins under their belts – and who truly tried their best to make their characters come alive. All we needed was a completely different director and writer, and we might have had a great film. Originally we could have had the director from Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but Alfonso Gomez-Rejon saw where things were headed and made a sensible exit citing ‘creative differences’. These days, that’s code for ‘time to get off a sinking ship.’
Director David Frankel has had his hits with The Devil Wears Prada and Marley and Me, but those films were based on best-selling memoirs. Collateral Beauty is an original script by Allan Loeb and though I really liked the idea for the story, its execution was awful. The motivations of some of the characters were extremely questionable though they pretended as if their intentions are good, and the narrative treats it as such. And then it jumps to some unbelievable conclusions that in no way would fix any real-life problems
The most infuriating part was its predictability and complete lack of subtlety throughout the film, throwing as many metaphors as possible at the audience with an almost galling consistency. The best is when they make ‘big reveals’ as if they think the audience will be completely surprised about the truth bombs about to go down, but in reality you wish you could just flip to another channel.
Collateral Beauty is full of cheap shots pulling tears from the audience (I mean only a monster wouldn’t cry), a narrative that moves like automated clockwork and an absolute waste of talented actors. It will probably be forgotten in about two months time until it surfaces again on SABC 3’s Saturday night movie slot.