Like Will Smith and Sentimentality? Look into Collateral Beauty
- Susan Ellingburg Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2016 14 Dec
A powerful story of love and loss. The acting is as good as you'd expect and the story is much more interesting than the trailer suggests. Making the most of its 94 minutes, this one presses a lot of emotional buttons but will leave you feeling good. And maybe a little sad. But a good sad (it's complicated). 4 out of 5.
After a tragedy leaves successful New York advertising executive Howard (Will Smith) emotionally paralyzed, his friends and co-workers (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña) go to desperate lengths to reconnect with him. Meanwhile, Howard is only interested in communicating with Love, Time, and Death (personified by Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore and Helen Mirren, respectively)—abstractions which, in Howard's words, "connect every human being." He wrote letters to all three... but he never expected them to respond. When they do, Howard and his friends are changed.
Director David Frankel assembled a cast that includes two Oscar winners—Winslet and Mirren—and three nominees: Smith, Norton and Knightley. They are just as good as all that recognition would lead you to expect. Will Smith barely utters a word for the first 30 minutes or so, but he doesn't need to. Anyone who has mourned a lost loved one will recognize the authenticity of his grief. Mirren is another standout (no surprise there), but everyone pulls their weight. It probably helps that the stars have good material to work with. I know some reviewers will heap scorn on this feel-good story (currently 16% on RottenTomatoes), but I found the script to be funny, wrenching, charming, and powerful—often all at the same time. The trailer makes it seem like a simple fairy tale kind of thing, but there are layers upon layers upon layers to this plot... and if you're like me, once the final layer is revealed you'll want to watch it all over again to catch the nuances you missed the first time around.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but Howard's friends betray him in a way that seems out of character for people who clearly love their grieving friend. Their actions are actually a little horrifying; the fact that it mostly comes out right in the end does not excuse the lengths they're willing to go. There's also so much going on: we have four storylines to follow and multiple characters to keep up with. Jumping from one story to the next can feel choppy and it's not always easy to remember what's up with each character when their turn comes. As for the title Collateral Beauty: it's 'explained' but not in any way that actually clarifies anything. Maybe I missed the point, but I still couldn't tell you what "collateral beauty" is supposed to be.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
Speaking to Death has a biblical precedent (see 1 Corinthians 15: 55, for one) but I don't recall the Bible ever giving Death the opportunity to talk back. In this story there's no sense that Death has been defeated by Christ's resurrection, so she has plenty to say (and as she's played by Mirren, she says it well). The idea that Love, Time and Death are all part of existence is fine as far as it goes, but Love as a standalone emotion is pretty wimpy without any acknowledgment of a loving God to back it up. Howard does not have any kind of faith or belief system. He mentions praying to "the universe" and shows some scorn for Christians and several other religions based on the dumb things people say to those who mourn.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
- Language/Profanity: Bullsh** is the profanity of choice, but sh**, b**ch, and one f-bomb also make appearances, usually out of frustration rather than anger.
- Sexuality/Nudity: In one (brief) scene there's an amount of cleavage that seemed a trifle excessive even for “Love” in the flesh. One character had an affair which led to divorce; this is discussed several times.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: The emotions are deep but not violent. A young man is knocked off his skateboard and briefly threatened.
Drugs/Alcohol: Characters talk about going to a bar; one makes a joke (at least we think it's a joke…) about buying drugs.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who has lost a loved one, enjoys an emotional workout, appreciates good acting, and/or wants to see something that will prompt interesting post-movie conversations. Parents will particularly appreciate several aspects of the story.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Movie-goers who like more action than emotion in their films or don't understand why people can't just "move on" after a tragedy. Those who recently experienced a loss may want wait and watch this one at home; it might pack too much of an emotional wallop for comfortable public viewing.
Collateral Beauty, directed by David Frankel, opened in theaters December 16, 2016; available for home viewing March 14, 2017. It runs 94 minutes and stars Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Keira Knightley, and Helen Mirren. Watch the trailer for Collateral Beauty here.
Susan Ellingburg spends most days helping to create amazing live events and most nights at the movies, at rehearsals, or performing with vocal ensembles in the Dallas area. This leaves very little time for cleaning house. A natural-born Texan, Susan loves all things British, Sunday afternoon naps, cozy mysteries, traveling with friends, and cooking like a Food Network star (minus the camera crew).
Publication date: December 14, 2016