Collateral Beauty

Collateral Beauty (2016) by David Frankel

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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:

collateralbeauty5Howard (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 CB09078.dngand 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.

collateralbeauty7Don’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.

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The Invention of Lying – and the birth of all religion

The Invention of Lying (2009) by Matthew Robinson and Ricky Gervais

So, I went to a mystery movie preview last night (that’s when they don’t tell you the movie you are going to watch – it’s less expensive and fun if you do not happen to come across a film with an actor you abhorr, i.e. Tom Cruise). I did it the first time and I must say the concept actually scares me. Back in the days I dreaded going to the movies without knowing what I was going to watch, especially when I was meeting someone. I always wanted to make sure beforehand that I would not be coerced into something I didn’t want to watch. Consequently, going to a movie where I didn’t even know what I was going to watch while already having paid for the ticket is close to a heart attack for me. Just imagine what would happen if I came across a really bad movie.

But I got lucky (with the movie, you perverts!). I remember having seen the trailer once which did not make much of an impression, I guess. But the movie… I mean, just like the next person, I love an English accent and Ricky Gervais certainly has one. But it was not only him, it was the idea:

Imagine a world where nobody can lie – and then there is this average guy who suddenly can. And he tells people lies not only to gain something from it but sometmes just to make them a little happier… a good guy, mainly. Of course, his ability also makes him rich and popular. A fellow we all could be because we would do it for others as much as ourselves…

I loved that the main character sometimes stumbled, that he makes the right decisions when to lie and when not and that he learns when he errs. In the beginning, for example, he tries to lure a woman into bed by telling her the world was going to end if she didn’t have sex with him – and, of course, she believes him – but that was a mistake since she is so hysteric and focused on saving the world that he fakes a phone call with someone to tell him it isn’t necessary anymore – the world is once again save. I also loved that the woman was played by Stephanie March…

Speaking of the cast… we have Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, and Rob Lowe in the leads – and then some: Tina Fey (hilarious), Edward Norton, Jimmi Simpson (as representative of Coca Cola), Jason Bateman, and Philip Seymore Hoffman in small but wonderful roles.

It is interesting to note that before Mark (Gervais) starts lying there seems to be no religion whatsoever. Then he tells his mother about an afterworld while she is dying where everybody gets a mansion and meets all there friends and loved ones. As the nurses and doctor hear it, too, there is an uproar in the community and finally the whole world as Mark invents the “Man in the Sky” who talks to him only and told him about the afterlife. It is really wonderful to see how the people are willing to believe in a higher power that gives them mansions and want to condemn the same power for letting babies die of Aids. A woderfully thoughtful comment on religion.

The movie does not dwell too long on the newness of telling the truth in every situation – it is funny in the beginning but would have been tedious if it was the only thing the movie was about – but rather follows the plot early on. Of course, the plot is about boy meets girl (Jen Garner) and how he is supposed to get her when she wants the best compatible mate to have beautiful kids with, i.e. Rob Lowe. But it is charmingly done and of course, his love-interest comes around (though I think it a little insulting that women seem to only be able to make up their minds at the wedding, in front of all their loved ones… it’s been done often enough now, don’t u think?)

Okay, I liked this one. It’s a comedy that actually deserves to be called comedy.