Film review: COLLATERAL BEAUTY, from ‘Built For Speed’

An odd mix of Capra-esque redemption story and A Christmas Carol, Collateral Beauty is a tear-jerker with a touch of screwball comedy that puts audiences in an uneasy tug of war between cheesiness and genuine emotion. Many viewers will justifiably recoil from what might be termed its Oprah Network morality but some will find undeniably affecting moments in this film.

Will Smith plays Howard an advertising executive who has been left paralysed with grief after his six-year-old daughter’s death. Unable to function at work yet still in charge of his company’s fortunes, Howard starts to become a liability for the firm and its employees. Sympathetic to Howard but still feeling he needs to be relieved of command to save the firm, three middle managers Claire (Kate Winslet), Whit (Ed Norton) and Simon (Michael Pena) hit upon a bizarre way of having him deemed mentally unfit to run the company. They employ three actors: Brigitte (Helen Mirren) Aimee (Keira Knightley) and Raffi (Jacob Latimore) to play Death, Love and Time respectively – three entities to whom the grieving Howard has actually written letters – to confront him in the street and engage him in weird conversations while a private detective (An Dowd) records his reactions for an incriminating video. The plan takes an unexpected turn, however, when the managers’ growing relationships with the three actors force them to confront hidden aspects of themselves.

It’s a ludicrous set-up and it’s hard to believe that Smith’s character, no matter how afflicted by grief wouldn’t see through it immediately but within the film’s fantasy world it works…just. Having such a strong cast doesn’t hurt although they’re badly underused and it’s is very strange to see all this thespian talent assembled in such a mediocre film.

Having established its oddball premise the film fails to make any profound philosophical points and for the most part settles for the sort of cheeseball morality that has poisoned a lot of recent Cameron Crowe films. The film also has to fight the uphill battle of trying to make the audience sympathise with an advertising exec who talks in nauseating slogans.  For a few very brief flickering moments, though, this schmaltzy film strikes an emotional chord, particularly when it delves into the heartbreaking situation of losing a child.  Director David Frankel also manages to inject a few slivers of humour into what could have been a very lachrymose film.

This is not quite the monstrous, rancid, maggot-infested turkey that the popular film rating metrics might suggest but given the cast, it’s still very disappointing.

Nick’s rating: **.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): David Frankel.

Release date: 12th January 2017.

Running time: 97 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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