FILM REVIEW – COLLATERAL BEAUTY. With Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Helen Mirren. Written by Allan Loeb. Directed by David Frankel. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language. 97 minutes.
COLLATERAL BEAUTY is an allegory about life and death. You either go with it or you don’t. People looking for something that will leave them teary and uplifted will appreciate it, while the more cynical shouldn’t even bother.
Howard (Will Smith) is senior partner in a successful advertising agency who, in the film’s prologue, tells his employees their work is about the three things most important to people: Love, Time, and Death. We then jump ahead to Howard going through life like a zombie unable to connect with his partners (played by Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Michael Peña). Business has taken a turn for the worse, but the partners have the opportunity to sell the agency on generous terms. The only problem is that Howard remains uncommunicative.
The reason for this is heartbreaking. He was the father of a young daughter who died, and life has become meaningless for him. In fact the only communication he offers is in letters addressed to Love, Time and Death. That’s when the partners come across three actors (Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, and Jacob Latimore) who they hire to personify the concepts. The actors will address Howard as if they are responding to his letters in the hopes of breaking through to him.
It’s an unusual premise, and not without its comic elements. The actors get into their roles, with Mirren wondering how her performance as Death has been received as if she expected to be reviewed. To add to the allegory, each of the partners works with one of the actors and are themselves helped in their own personal problems. Norton, for example, plays a divorced dad whose young daughter blames him for her parents’ divorce. Knightley, who has been hired to personify Love, urges Norton’s character to express his love for his daughter in spite of her rejection.
There are some other twists involved, but the point of the film is that life serves up both the good and the bad, and some of the bad is truly awful. When Howard walks in on a support group for parents who have suffered the deaths of their young children, it is tragic. On the other hand, his withdrawal from life is not an appropriate response. In the end, each of the characters have to face some hard truths.
Although “Collateral Beauty” is an ensemble piece, the star turn here is by Smith, whose anguish is expressed in nearly every scene, often without saying a word. The result is a movie best suited for those not afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.