Collateral Beauty (2016) by David Frankel
This is an unusual pick for me. I’m not what you would call a Will Smith fan, neither do I like to watch sad movies about grief, but I’ve been in love with Kate Winslet for almost 20 years, so… I guess it actually is not that unusual after all.
A short synopsis:
Howard (Will Smith) lost his little girl 2 years ago and he can’t get over her death. His friends and colleagues Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña) are worried and hire a private investigator (Ann Dowd) to find out what he’s up to. She finds out that Howard writes letters to Death, Time, and Love.
Whit has the idea to hire actors to play Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Latimore), and Love (Keira Knightley) to confront Howard. But Howard has already begun his way toward healing by joining a support group for grieving parents (Naomie Harris among others).
Considering the subject matter, one already knows that this is not a light-hearted film. Even the title seems to point to that fact. We have a man suffering severe depression and his friends can’t help him because he shuts them out and also off. And I, for one, felt shut off from him as well. I don’t get to know Howard, not in the beginning anyway. And that’s really strange for one to not get to know the protagonist of the film. Instead, I get to know Howard’s friends and their problems.
And this is, I feel, one of the problems of the film. While it seems to center around Howard and his grief, this storyline is pushed to the sidelines in the beginning. While we know that Howard is hurting, we don’t really get to feel with him. We get to know Whit and the problems the advertising company he owns together with Howard has. We get to know Claire and Simon who have, of course, problems of their own. Then we meet the actors who’re supposed to stand in as these conceptual things Howard once cherished and now despises.
There’s a lot going on. Given, it is all very well acted, because… look at that cast! I got a total kick out of that scene at the theater with Kate and Helen and Keira and the three dudes (sorry, but that’s how I experienced it, having three great actresses I admire talk to each other in one scene… heaven!). But it’s still part of the reason the movie could barely reach me: too many cooks, too many stories, too little time.
Howard’s story almost completely plays out between him and Naomie Harris’ character Madeleine. And those are beautiful, well-acted scenes as well, but it’s hard to focus on their grief. It seems like the film’s makers run circles around their subject matter to not make the film about grief, while one of their characters is dying, while one’s afraid of losing love and another might never find it. I think they mean to make it a generational piece, something profound about life and how it goes on, how death is part of it as much as time and love… but the movie wants too much and becomes an indecipherable adding of brilliantly acted scenes that fall short of actually telling a story.
Don’t get me wrong, there are scenes which touch you, which amuse you, which tell you something about life, but then you’re taken from it into another scene that doesn’t add up. The big reveals of the film are none because you see them coming a mile away. Nothing suprised me because the film only flirts with big life issues, but doesn’t deliver. Instead, we get old Hollywood clichés.
The film wasn’t abysmal, not with that kind of cast. But I found watching it a very unsatisfactory experience. Whether it was the writing, the directing, or maybe even the editing (all three?) – the film just doesn’t add up to an emotional challenging story. Disappointing.