Collateral Beauty: A tearjerker that earns its stripes

The sad Will Smith film, Collateral Beauty, is going to do one of three things.

  1. Make you cry.
  2. Make you be better tomorrow.
  3. Make you mad.

In the end, for a film with enough emotion to fill a river, it may do all three.

One thing is for sure. David Frankel’s new film is a tearjerker of the highest order. It assembles a beautiful and talented cast, hands them a depressing tale, sprinkles some hope on the table, and decorates all of it with the lucid cinematic world of New York City. It’s an unconventional holiday film that requires the audience to buy into the sappy and melodramatic idea of what Christmas brings to people. The idea is simple. Love, peace, togetherness, remembrance, sadness, and most of all, hope.

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Smith’s Howard is a brilliant yet sad man, and one full of self-inflicted torture. He’s been struck with a terrible tragedy, and it’s affected his work and the future of his advertising company. A company that rides on three main things. Love, time, and death. Howard is numb to the world, and the holiday season isn’t making things better. His partners are afraid his misery will bury the company, which is close to be sold.

Whit Yardsham(Edward Norton) is divorced, living with his mother, estranged from his daughter, and needs the money from the buyout. Kate Winslet’s Claire wants something that she can’t have so bad that she wants to make everybody else feel better. Michael Pena’s Simon is hiding something, but also is putting the heart aside for what his family needs. When Whit runs into young Amy(Keira Knightley) and meets Brigette(Helen Mirren) and Raffi(Jacob Latimore), the trio develops a plan to get Howard back on track.

It’s a tearjerker that earns its tears in the end and wraps things up nicely. Maybe even a little too nicely.

The tagline of this film tells you, “We are all connected”. That is only true if you aren’t cynical. In order to like this film, you have to suspend disbelief and buy into the idea that coincidence is relative and the unknown is sexy and comes in the form of Naomie Harris’ Madeline, a woman who befriends Howard on his soul rehab mission.

David Frankel crafted a film that taught half the world about fashion in The Devil Wears Prada. After he made Meryl Streep the devil in fine clothes, he aims for the heart here, yet doesn’t let the audience off easily. Screenwriter Allan Loeb’s script travels the sea of cliches and corn syrup drama, but there’s enough in here for a very good cast to play with.

Smith is a superstar who likes to take challenging roles on occasion. He can play action heroes in his sleep, but he loves to run into a role that pushes back. Remember Six Degrees of Separation, where he played a mysterious man who helped a couple heal? Remember Seven Pounds, where he played a sad accountant with a mission? Remember Concussion, where he adopted a tough accent and got snubbed by the Oscars? Howard could have been a ham job for most actors, but Smith sets the heat on low and slowly dials it up.

His role reminded me of Adam Sandler’s best work in Reign Over Me. Painful yet assured.

The rest of the cast is talented enough to overcome familiar roles. Norton doesn’t work much, so it’s good to see him put a different shade on the best friend. Winslet is a pro and can do no wrong, and Mirren makes any film better. Knightley and Pena are serviceable in straight black coffee roles.

Collateral Beauty’s best ally is the release date. This is the time of year people think about loved ones lost, loved ones staring back them, and the ones they wish were given more time. It’s a tearjerker that earns its tears in the end and wraps things up nicely. Maybe even a little too nicely.

Is it Oscar worthy? No. Are the actors too good looking? Yes. Is the film going to get to you if you have kids or lost someone too soon? Most certainly. Try to deny this film and you are  a true cynic. A scene with Smith and Harris towards the end did me in. Maybe that’s because I’m a dad and husband. Maybe I just let myself get hit.

Collateral Beauty will punch you in the gut, wait while you wince and fall, but will buy you a drink after you rise.

It may not be the holiday film you deserve, but it is the one you need. Bring tissues and a friend.

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