Will Smith is a gift for any film’s marketing team. Send him out to do the rounds and this is a man who’s charisma could genuinely sell ice to Eskimos. He even almost – almost – manages to sell Collateral Beauty. Smith plays Howard, a high-flying creative businessman whose grief at the death of his daughter has broken his marriage and now threatens his company. Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and Michael Peña are his collateral friends/colleagues who dubiously decide to interfere by hiring a trio of actors to portray Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Love (Keira Knightly) in a bid to turn his life around or – better still – prove that he’s lost his marbles and thereby cut him out. If Passengers hadn’t already claimed the prize, Collateral Beauty would have walked away with the award for most disturbing-yet-supposedly-friendly plot of the year. Oh, 2016.
Collateral Beauty exists entirely in its own world. These are not real people. Nobody says these lines. This is a world in which you can dump your bike on a random street in New York and have it turn up twenty minutes later as though nothing had happened. Here it doesn’t matter if you’re not there when a conversation occurs because you’ve read the script so you know what was said. Has anyone ever said the line ‘There’s so much more at stake here than you even understand’ in real life without cringing and apologising profusely? Not a chance. Lines like this are awkward and along with an irritatingly unwelcome conclusion pull you from the film just as it threatens to draw you in. Had Collateral Beauty been allowed to stand on its own feet as a pure tale of the realities of grief it could have actually worked. Somewhere in here a good film does exist but the mechanics of its construction are so horribly contrived, so awfully cheesy, that it’s disappointment you leave with above all else
Despite having little to say or do in the first half, Smith makes for a solid, if surface-level, lead. Supporting him, Mirren, Winslet et al. are good but feel a tad wasted, with Naomi Harris, as the leader of a support group Howard attends through the film, bringing a depth to her character often hard to mine from the script itself. Similarly, the cinematography has a by the book delivery with only the occasional flourish from David Frankel. Of course New York looks lovely. Many critics have torn Collateral Beauty to shreds in reviews with a slew of one star responses which feel harsh and unwarranted. Sure, Collateral’s not great but it’s no stinker and looks set to be a pleasant future film for a daytime television audience – albeit a surprisingly well cast one.
Like day old milk Collateral Beauty looks decent enough but smells a bit off and leaves you with a distinctly queasy aftertaste. It’s not the worst film of 2016 – heck it’s not Smith’s worst film of 2016 – and there is an audience out there who will enjoy it for what it is. Just be sure not to notice the collateral damage.