I’m sorry I had to make you wait. You see, I teased a grief trilogy a while back with the first being A Monster Calls and the second being Manchester By The Sea. Both were very different movies that tackled grief, and both were praised by critics, though I vastly preferred the former. But I also noted Collateral Beauty as the final part of that trilogy, because it was also about grief and was released around the same time. But why did I put this one-off to last and then delay it anyway? Well my good friend, you can read on to find out.
Howard (Will Smith, Men in Black) has been in grief ever since his daughter died two years ago. However because he has been unable to do pretty much anything since then, his advertising firm is set to go under due to a loss of number of contracts. Keen to keep their jobs, his friends Whit, (Edward Norton, Fight Club) Clair, (Kate Winslet, Titanic) and Simon (Michael Pena, The Martian) hatch a plan to force him to sell his shares in the company.
And I think you can tell what the tone of the review is going to be right here. This is one nasty little film because the whole plot revolves on doing awful things to a man obviously struggling with grief. Because that plan is far worse than you would expect. Basically, Howard has been writing letters to the concept of time, death and love, angry at them for taking his daughter away. So the twatty trio decide to hire actors to play those parts and talk to Howard while a private investigator watches and films it so they can show he is crazy so he’s forced to sell his shares. This is horrific, one of the nastiest things I’ve ever seen on film. It’s emotional manipulation of the worst kind and it’s simply to watch.
Now having this sort of thing in a movie doesn’t necessarily make it bad. After all, mean spirited films about the worst kind of person can be very good if done right so they can reflect on us supposedly good people. I remember Thank You For Smoking being a very good example of this, showing a tobacco lobbyist being an odd force for good even if he is pushing something that kills people. This film does not do that. No as you can tell from the twinkly Christmas lights in the pictures you see around this article, it is meant to be inspiring. You’re meant to cry but you are meant to be uplifted by the end. That doesn’t work though as you simply want to punch everyone involved at the end rather than be a bit weepy.
So what you are left with are three completely unsympathetic characters as our leads who deserve every bad thing that happens to them, and so the film is quite satisfying in telling you there are a lot of bad things set to happen. Seriously, this film turns you into a sicko because it delivers on the pain for this trio. Whit is hated by his daughter Allison (Kylie Rodgers, Miracles from Heaven) for causing the divorce between him and his mum and great. He deserves to be hated, show the clips of this film to a court and he’ll never get to see his child again and everyone would be better off for it. Claire is worried she’s focused too much on her career and won’t have a child. Good, if this is how she treats her friends imagine what she’d do to her child. And Simon is now terminal… No I’m not going that far. But these characters are so horrible how can you possibly like them and care about what will happen to them?
And you what’s the most insulting part of Collateral Beauty? The part that makes this film so incredibly hateable, the thing that makes you want to burn some things to make everything a bit better? At one point the film decides that what the trio are doing is not nasty, but actually helpful. Yes apparently making it seem like your friend is going crazy and have delusions so he gives up the company he has presumably worked hard to build up is actually a good thing to do and will help in the grieving process. After seeing so many films deal with grief so well over the last few weeks, it is just so offensive to see a film completely misunderstand it like this one does.
And honestly, I feel like it would be wrong to point out the positives of Collateral Beauty because of how insulting it is. But I am a professional, at least the Malteasers that I’m paid in seem to suggest that, and I suppose I have to point the few things that are good in this. The acting for the most part is reasonable. Will Smith is attaching himself to these pictures so he can try and win an Oscar and you can see he is giving it his all in every scene, which is a shame considering the film he is wasting his effort on. And apart from Edward Norton, who gives up halfway through the film when he seems to realise what movie he is starring in, everyone else is ok as well. And the film is reasonably well shot as well, just that the Love Actually style would fit better in another film which has a more whimsical tone.
Collateral Beauty is just an insult and a lousy way to end the grief trilogy. The emotions we feel when we lose someone close to us are incredibly complex and that is why so many films have been made about it. But you must have a deft hand with it, you have to have understanding about how devastating a death can have on people. You can’t just make a film where you emotionally manipulate someone whose had such a brutal thing happen to them and expect us to fall in line and love it. If you do expect that you are messed up in the head. So yes, avoid Collateral Beauty because it’s the sort of film that would hit on the widow at a funeral because why not, she’s single now.