96 min. | PG-13
Collateral Beauty is the feel-good holiday movie many films aspire to be and few actually are: humorous, heartbreaking, uplifting, and nicely performed by a notable ensemble that clearly loves the material.
Will Smith plays Howard, a successful ad exec who lost his 6-year-old daughter to cancer. He’s not handling it well. He refuses to speak to others, doesn’t eat, lives hermetically, and his business is failing.
Unable to reach him on any level, colleagues and friends Claire (Kate Winslet), Whit (Edward Norton) and Simon (Michael Pena) hire private investigator to discover more about how he is living. It’s revealed that Howard wrote letters to Love, Death and Time, venting about how they all betrayed him.
Inspired, Claire and company hire three actors to portray Love, Death and Time and speak directly to Howard. Aimee (Keira Knightley) is Love, Brigitte (Helen Mirren) plays Death, and Raffi (Jacob Latimore) is Time. As Howard encounters the physical manifestations of these abstract concepts he starts to come to terms with his situation. He even attends a grief counseling group led by Madeleine (Naomi Harris) and full of other parents who’ve lost children also helps.
Director David Frankel’s (Marley & Me) film may sound cheesy, but it’s not. It’s quite well done, subtle, never over the top, and has a nice twist or two in the end. Best of all, it’s creative. The script plays with the ideas of love, death and time in the opening scene, and in doing so connects with universal truths: That we long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death. Perspective on that changes as we age, but it’s nonetheless easy to accept in this context. Moreover, seeing these concepts in physical form brings to life something audiences can otherwise never see, which makes it wonderfully inventive.
The cast really makes the story sing. Knightley, Mirren and Latimore bring an energy that suggests they’re having just as much fun playing Love, Death and Time as we are watching them; in fact, that fun is probably why we enjoy watching them so much.
Slightly more serious are Winslet, Norton and Pena, who get more screen time and deal with harsher realities. Still, as their characters interact with actors they hired to portray Love, Death Time, their own troubles and humanity become endearing.
As for Smith, his dour character is mostly a drag (understandably so), but his scenes with counselor Madeleine are compelling, and it’s worth noting that his natural charisma is suppressed for the sake of Howard’s pain. Smith has done this in other films (The Pursuit of Happyness), and effectively pulls it off again here.
Collateral Beauty is good for the soul. Go see it on a cold day and it’ll warm the heart in all the right ways.
Did you know? It took three days to set up the more than 10,000 dominoes that Howard knocks over in the beginning of the film.