Nestled among all the holiday releases based on video games and big sci-fi adventures is the sweet “Collateral Beauty.” Although it continuously slips into being overly sentimental, it’s hard not to be pulled in by the film’s tale of love, loss and the time it takes to deal with both.
At the heart of this holiday tale is Howard (Will Smith), a super-competent co-owner of an advertising company who loses his love for life when his 6-year-old daughter dies. His emotional and mental spiral has crippled his company and left his closest friends frustrated as to how to save their friend from his agonizing grief.
Whit (Edward Norton), Simon (Michael Pena) and Claire (Kate Winslet) come up with a plan to save the company. They must prove Howard is incompetent so they can circumvent his votes and sell the agency.
They learn that Howard has written letters to Death, Time and Love expressing his frustration with them. Claire sees it as a form of therapy, but Whit sees the letters as an opportunity. Three actors are hired to play Death, Time and Love to confront Howard. They plan to film his response to use in a sanity hearing.
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At the same time Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Love (Keira Knightley) are playing out their roles with Howard, they also provide guidance and advice for the three friends. It’s more than the friends thought they would get for their ruse.
Allan Loeb’s story deals with deep emotions. There’s the natural grief that comes when a parent loses a child played out in a heartbreaking fashion by Smith. He’s a man who is so broken he cannot even say the name of the child he lost.
At the same time, there’s Whit’s touching story as he tries to connect with his young daughter who hates him because his cheating led to divorce. Whit’s got to find the power of love again to win her back.
Claire’s dealing with a race against time. She’s spent so much of time on her career she’s afraid she’s missed out on creating a family.
And Simon is facing the reality of death as he is overtaken by a fatal disease.
The biggest weakness in Loeb’s story is that he fails to clearly explain the title. There are conversations, but they are too vague to give a clear definition to how that title fits into this story.
Director David Frankel gives life to the different stories, keeping them distinct but fitting perfectly together in a maze that Howard creates as an outlet for his troubled heart, mind and soul. The director doesn’t feel compelled to completely play out each storyline. This is a film not as much about reaching a destination as the pain, hope, love and time it takes for the journey.
There are times when the emotional elements are as thick as eggnog, and that’s OK. This is the time of year when it’s time to share emotions, open ourselves up to being vulnerable and reflect on the highs and lows that come with being human.
There’s also a touch of holiday magic that makes the film work on another level. It’s that element that makes this a good film for the big Christmas rush at local theaters. It’s so sweet that it’s easy to think even Scrooge and the Grinch would share a hug after seeing it.
Cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore
Director: David Frankel
Rating: PG-13 (language, thematic elements)
Opens: Friday, Dec. 16