“Collateral Beauty”: Misguided Grief Therapy

Loving support is offered to grief-stricken Howard (Will Smith) in Collateral Beauty, the star-packed film with the interesting title and trailer you were hoping was this year’s holiday heart-warmer. Think again, say most critics.

“Love, Time, Death. These three things connect every single human being on earth. We long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death,” states Howard at the start of the trailer:

Plot development as described by critic Peter Bradshaw, Guardian:

This horrifyingly yucky, toxically cutesy ensemble dramedy creates a Chernobyl atmosphere of manipulative sentimentality, topped off with an ending which M Night Shyamalan might reject as too ridiculous. This isn’t Frank Capra. It is emotional literacy porn, like an aspirational self-help bestseller written by Keyser Söze. At the end of it, I screamed the way polar bears are supposed to when they get their tongues frozen to the ice.

Will Smith plays a super-brilliant ad exec with a Ted-talking visionary schtick about connectivity. But when he tragically loses his six-year-old to cancer, poor Will becomes a mumbling semi-crazy hermit who is in danger of running his company into the ground. He starts writing letters to abstract concepts like Death, Love and Time, to rail at them. So his sorrowing colleagues – Ed Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña – cook up a sneaky plan. They intercept the letters and hire three actors, played by Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore, to go up to Will in the street and argue with him, pretending to be Death, Love and Time. (They could also have hired Jack Black to be Eat and Morgan Freeman to be Pray – but I guess there were copyright issues.)

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter:

Even if it hadn’t come along so soon after Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s symphonic drama about a father emotionally crippled by loss, Collateral Beauty would look like silly high-concept Hollywood grief porn.

It’s a ludicrous plot device, right out of Gaslight, as Brigitte [Mirren] observes…

Good thing (?) Howard has his group therapy led by Madeleine (Naomie Harris), who’s also lost a child. Dan Callahan, The Wrap: “…Madeleine tells Howard about being at the hospital when an older woman turned to her to say that she must appreciate the ‘collateral beauty’ of her situation. Yes, Harris is actually made to say the ultra-lame title of this movie out loud — more than once — and she acts as if it is the most profound statement in the world.”

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian: Collateral beauty is “…like collateral damage only positive. Moments of loss are offset by revelations of human wonder at the resulting gestures of compassion and kindness. At least …I think that is how ‘collateral beauty’ is supposed to work because no-one in this movie spells it out – perhaps because doing so would reveal the concept to be dishonest nonsense.”

Matt Singer, ScreenCrush: “I still don’t know what ‘collateral beauty’ means.” Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “Forget ‘Collateral Beauty,’ whatever that means. This is ‘Collateral Schmaltz,’ the kind that has the power to close rather than open your heart as you rush out of the theater while the terribly named One Direction ballad, ‘Let’s Hurt Tonight,’ provides exit music.”

Leah Greenblatt, ew.com:  “These actors are too good to be entirely sunk by the sheer silliness of the material (with the exception of Smith, who seems fully committed to playing the role of a human frown-face emoji). But for all good Intentions, they can’t save a movie that so clearly wants to be something greater– It’s a Will-derful Life? Grief, Actually?—but mostly ends up a Collateral mess.”

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