By George M. Thomas
What exactly is “collateral beauty?”
|Will Smith and Helen Mirren in "Collateral Beauty."|
The most I can figure is that it’s the good that comes out of any given situation – be that situation tragic, sad or straddling the two.
That’s what a stranger tells a character in the film COLLATERAL BEAUTY, a movie that remains true to the Christmas spirit in that it’s relentlessly optimistic despite the dark material – coping with the grief associated with a child’s death – it explores.
Sometimes that optimism is difficult to ignore and, as in the case of films that tug at heart strings, viewers won’t be able to resist the urge of being drawn into world of Howard (Will Smith), a grieving father and advertising executive who has put his company at risk because of an inability to confront that grief.
Howard lost his 6-year-old daughter to cancer. While his partners Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) keep the ad agency afloat, he spends time alone in an apartment and setting up elaborate systems of dominoes when he bothers to show up in the office.
Howard was the brains and inspiration of the agency, and slowly but surely, it’s losing clients. Hope exists, however, as the agency’s competitor wants to buy the place and has agreed to allow them all to keep their jobs. Howard - who has taken to writing missives to concepts such as Death, Love and Time - and his state of mind threaten that chance, however.
His partners get the bright idea to hire a trio of actors, Brigitte (Helen Mirren), Amy (Keira Knightley) and Raffi (Jacob Latimore), to portray the ominous figures Howard writes to. They appear to him a la Charles Dickens’ infamous ghosts in 'A Christmas Carol' in an attempt to get him to move on.
While it’s easy to predict what COLLATERAL BEAUTY’s final destination will be, the journey there possesses a few surprising, emotionally charged moments. Yes, it’s also completely, wholly, and incredibly manipulative in more than one way.
David Frankel (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA) wants your tears, your laughs, and other emotion-related actions. He takes Allan Loeb’s script and doesn’t leave much on the page in that regard.
Additionally, Smith remains in search of Oscar gold (he’s not about to get it this year), but he delivers a performance that oozes pain.
His supporting cast, especially Mirren, provide enough reason to buy into the entire notion of COLLATERAL BEAUTY. As always, Mirren provides her role just what it needs – in this case humor, empathy and charm.
COLLATERAL BEAUTY isn’t perfect, but its heart is in the right place. And with this cast, it’s well worth a look.
Movie: COLLATERAL BEAUTY
Director: David Frankel
Cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
Running time: 97 minutes
George’s rating: 2.5-of-4 stars