* out of 5
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
Warner Bros. Pictures
Article first published at TheReelPlace.com
Films can be manipulative. We just accept it. While some get away with, others you can see right through. This weekend’s star-studded Collateral Beauty is pure cellophane. See through and ready to be thrown in the trash. Full of despicable characters doing despicable things, Warner Bros. is doing its damnedest to make it look like the holiday event film we’ve been waiting for. You will find no warm and fuzzies here, only the dullest violins playing in the background of one of the year’s worst screenplays. You can’t blame the cast for trying — they perform admirably all things considered, but a turd is still a turd, no matter how much mistletoe and holly you dress it up with.
It’s Christmas in New York City and Howard (Smith) is deep in grief after his daughter died three years earlier. His friends/co-workers — Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Pena) — all just want the best for him: to get over his daughter’s death and agree to sell stocks of their company to a potential client. Together the three conjure up a plan to hire actors to portray death, love, and time — Brigitte (Helen Mirren), Amy (Keira Knightley), and Raffi (Jacob Latimore) — whom Howard has been writing letters to. Along with hiring a private detective, Sally Price (Ann Dowd), Howard’s three “best friends” set out to catch him on film talking to the three abstractions to prove to the company’s board of directors that he is no longer of sound mind. There’s another subplot involving Madeleine (Naomie Harris), a grief counselor whose only involvement is a plot twist you’ll see coming a mile away.
There has not been a film so unabashedly manipulative as Collateral Beauty in years. While there are the horrific Garry Marhall-helmed holiday-themed rom-coms of recent years, director Frankel and screenwriter Allan Loeb hit some all time lows. As a colleague put it: “This is Oscar bait for the layman.” Only the most easily influenced will be moved by the film’s saccharine sweetness that’s dead set on giving every viewer diabetes. But the film’s biggest fault is the atrocious screenplay. I’ve never been so appalled with lead characters in my life. Since when is faking that one of your best friends, and business partner, has gone crazy a good idea? These are the kinds of characters who should be sentenced to serving a year together in jail Seinfeld-style.
While the cast all perform exactly as expected — you have to admire how hard Smith is crying by the red in his eyes — even they sound slightly bored and annoyed with starring in this. I’m not sure what bet they lost, but Warner Bros. must have some mighty good blackmail against them. Every commercial you see on TV trumpets reviews calling it the most uplifting holiday film of the season. I can attest that the best Christmas movie of the year doesn’t come out until next week. As it stands, Collateral Beauty is a mess from start to finish. If you want to see a fantastic case of good, hilarious grieving, see if Manchester By the Sea is playing anywhere nearby. Now there’s a film that knows what it’s like to deal with death. The only thing left to say here, is that if Gods of Egypt hadn’t come out in 2016, Collateral Beauty would be the absolute worst film of the year.