MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: New Line Cinema
Directed by David Frankel. Starring Will Smith, Kate Winslet
“We’re here to connect. Love, time, death. Now these three things connect every single human being on earth. We long to love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death.”
These words of wisdom are spoken at the beginning of Collateral Beauty by Howard Inlet (Smith), the head of a major New York ad agency, in a motivational talk to his employees. Howard is at the top of the world and enjoying the good life.
Then he loses his six-year-old daughter to a fatal illness. His life falls apart and he goes into a long-lasting, pathological depression that is lasting for over two years. Major clients that came to the agency primarily in response to Howard’s genius are moving their business elsewhere or intimating defection. Howard’s partners and friends – Claire (Winslet), Whit (Edward Norton), and Simon (Michael Peña) – would like to buy Howard out in order to sell the company, but he rebuffs their every effort. They hire a private detective (Ann Dowd) to follow Howard and she discovers that he has been writing letters to Love, Time and Death. So far, it’s been a one-way conversation. But what if these three concepts were personified and began conversations with Howard? And, if Howard believed he was actually talking to them, could he be declared incompetent?
That’s a lot of plot twists to negotiate, and that’s just twenty minutes into the picture. Howard will have his conversations with Time (Jacob Latimore), Love (Keira Knightley) and Death (Helen Mirren), for the partners have stumbled upon a small acting troupe who are willing to step into these roles in order to secure funding for their next production.
As the three partners eventually get Howard to open up in his conversations with the universe, they also have their own ruminations about these eternal themes as well as their doubts about deceiving a close friend.
There are a lot of good things about this film, including actors who are committed to the material. The movie is well directed and engaging and many of the conversations contain pearls of wisdom. Unfortunately, there are far too many pearls, and the movie begins to turn into a pearl necklace of platitudes. It’s better than a Hallmark Channel movie, but it sure sounds like a recitation of Hallmark cards.
In the final act of the film the wheels fall off the bus, with a series of plot twists and contrivances that ruin most of the goodwill that was earned in the first hour. You will either be crying or rolling your eyes at the end of Collateral Beauty, but in either case you will know that you have been manipulated and duped. The film evokes the same kind of feelings as the holiday classics It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, but it does so in the fashion of popular “unreliable narrator” films like Gone Girl and The Usual Suspects. It’s a bad Christmas recipe. Somebody spiked the eggnog.
I personally think that this film was just a couple of rewrites short of being something really special. You will certainly want to talk about Collateral Beauty after you see it. Whether you talk about its wisdom or its foolishness is up to you.
Three halos: Wisdom and good intentions are hampered by too many plot twists.
Two pitchforks: Mild swearing; deception.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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