Monday 29 April 2019

Movie Review: Collateral Beauty (2016)

A drama with touches of humour addressing the consequences of personal loss and profound grief, Collateral Beauty is well meaning but excessively sententious.

In New York City, marketing executive Howard (Will Smith) is still in a deep depression two years after the death of his daughter. To try and cope with his grief he writes angry letters to the abstract concepts of Death, Love and Time. His business partners Whit (Edward Norton), Clare (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña) are facing a deadline to sell the company, but cannot seal the deal without Howard, the majority shareholder.

In desperation the partners decide to hire struggling theatre actors to engage with Howard, either to snap him out of his funk or prove he is incapable of functioning. Brigitte (Helen Mirren), Amy (Keira Knightley) and Raffi (Jacob Latimore) agree to impersonate Death, Love and Time respectively. Howard does take the initiative to join a support group managed by Madeleine (Naomie Harris), while the hired actors learn that Whit, Clare and Simon are facing personal issues of their own.

Death is part of life, love persists despite everything, and time is precious and should not be wasted are universal themes straight from the bottom shelf of simplistic self-help pop-psychology. Collateral Beauty wears these concepts with utmost reverence, and weaves around them a saccharin story befitting the excessively maudlin mood.

The clunky plot is an excuse to construct the rickety device of actors impersonating abstract concepts and ambushing Howard in street-level interventions. And it's no surprise whatsoever when backstories are introduced for Whit, Clare and Simon to double down on the sappiness of Howard's ordeal and give the hired actors more people to fix, Hollywood style.

But it's not all totally bad. Director David Frankel, working from a spec script by Allan Loeb, has an embarrassment of acting riches at his disposal, and makes reasonably good use of the talented cast given the emotional immaturity of the material. The shortish running-time of 97 minutes is shared equally among the many of stars on display, and most of them get at least a couple of scenes to shine. Helen Mirren appears to have the most fun as a never-will-be actress romping through the role of Death.

The perfectly sparkling locations featuring New York City decked out for Christmas fit perfectly within the film's simplistically magical ethos, but Loeb's dialogue exchanges needed at least one more thorough polish to scrub away the many awkward artificialities.

Collateral Beauty tries to achieve a whimsical fairytale vibe, but lands firmly on the wrong side of cloying.

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