Dec 16

“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, “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,  “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.”

Sep 02

“The Hundred-Foot Journey” and “The Lunchbox”: Similar Themes

“Sometimes brakes break for a reason.” The Hundred-Foot Journey

“Sometimes, the wrong train will get you to the right station.” The Lunchbox

I recently saw Lasse Hallström‘s The Hundred-Foot Journey, an enjoyable and moving (yet slight) film.

And some aspects of it happen to be quite reminiscent of another movie I saw just months ago. Like The Hundred-Foot Journey, writer/director Ritesh Batra‘s The Lunchbox (available on DVD now) has, among other similarities, a theme involving happenstance along life’s literal and metaphorical journeys (see above).

Each also each strongly features Indian culture and food.

Although The Lunchbox has received somewhat higher praise from critics and consumers alike, both have been well appreciated and—I have to say it—easily digested.

Another important facet in common is the simplicity of each story, better revealed as you watch and not so much beforehand.

Mick Lasalle, San Francisco Chronicle, sets up the plot of the more current release: “‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ is about an Indian family that relocates to Europe with the intention of opening an Indian restaurant somewhere on the continent. Their car breaks down in rural France, and the patriarch (Om Puri) falls in love with a property that happens to be across the street from a Michelin starred restaurant.”

That highly rated restaurant is owned by Helen Mirren’s character, who is not so welcoming of the newly establishing competition.

“By the time ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ ends,” states Lasalle, “it has achieved an unexpected and rather powerful cumulative impact. I felt like I knew the people and wouldn’t mind staying there.”

The trailer:

Steven Rea,, lays out the basics of The Lunchbox plot

Ila (the excellent Nimrat Kaur) is married to a man who is wholly uninterested and disengaged. With encouragement from ‘Auntie,’ an upstairs neighbor we only hear, never see, Ila begins preparing elaborate lunches – you know the old saw, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But by mistake, the dabba is delivered to Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a sad-eyed widower, an accountant at a big firm. He is surprised by his meal, and doubly surprised when another delicious lunch shows up the next day – with a note from Ila, wondering why her husband hadn’t said anything about his repast.

It’s when Saajan writes back that a relationship brews between Ila and him—over many meals, of course.

Rea concludes that The Lunchbox is “an epistolary love story, a celebration of food, and a query about connection, synchronicity, fate, and chance.”

Xan Brooks, The Guardian: “Already a huge success in its native India, Ritesh Batra’s Mumbai-set romance arranges a tender marriage of Brief Encounter with Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner.”

After you watch this trailer, maybe you’ll consider seeing at least one of these two enchanting movies: