Collateral Beauty

Verdict: Skip it. At most, see it on Netflix for Will Smith and Michael Peña.

Synopsis: “When a successful New York advertising executive (Will Smith) experiences a deep personal tragedy and retreats from life entirely, his colleagues devise a drastic plan to force him to confront his grief in a surprising and profoundly human way.” Directed by David Frankel, screenplay by Allan Loeb.


Review:

The Good: Great cast with some strong, breakout performances and Will Smith good as always

This movie has a lot of acting talent, and when they are given moments to shine, they do so. Helen Mirren is great as always. Michael Peña shows his depth and unused talent as a dramatic actor, bringing weight and emotional depth to the screen, even in a role that is often quiet; I hope to see more of this from him. Keira Knightley isn’t present for long, but is funnier than I have seen her in any other role I can think of; I hope to see more of this from her. Jacob Latimore, a newcomer, is incredibly charismatic for the short time we see him, playing both angry and playful with equal prowess; I just hope to see more of him. Naomie Harris, who is currently dominating Hollywood (Pirates of the Caribbean, James Bond, Southpaw, Moonlight) continues to show her skill and presence on screen.

Finally of course is Will Smith, which readers should be warned for bias, is my all time favorite actor. Much like every other role of his career, he plays what he is given perfectly. He carries his sadness physically and in his face, much in the way he did in Seven Pounds. Nonetheless, he cannot shed the charm and humor (even when unintentional) that made him famous, and it provides for nice character depth.

As for the rest of the movie, the best I can say is that it has some interesting ideas. It is one of the first films that I know of that requires you to watch the trailer beforehand. You honestly can’t get the full effect of the film without being exposed to its pre-marketing.

The Bad: Sampling too many ideas and some terrible dialogue accentuate a confusing and shallow result

Unfortunately, that’s where the good ends. The rest of this movie falls into bad. And it is a shame, because it really does have some interesting ideas behind it. It’s a little bit of A Christmas Carol with some deeper emotional messaging supported by a stellar cast, and that is an intriguing idea.

The problem is, the movie does not know what it wants to be. It has all these ideas, but it can’t keep them straight, and rather then picking one or two and committing, it samples them all. The result is shallow and largely emotionless, despite its content. A movie that is somehow about a man’s child dying lacks any emotional attachment to the audience.

Perhaps the best example of this confusion is the unfocused protagonist. You would sure think that the lead character of the film is Smith, but you’d be wrong. While he is no doubt the primary character, so much time is spent on Peña, Kate Winslet, and Edward Norton’s stories that the audience doesn’t have time to connect to Smith. And that’s a problem since he’s the focus character. Instead, they chose to pair each actor with Mirren, Knightley, and Latimore, and hit the audience over the head with their intended purpose in the film.

In order to continue eliciting cheap emotional response, the movie then delivers two completely unnecessary twists. Were the film built around those twists, it may have deserved the emotions it tried to force, and the twists might have worked.

A last point: the dialogue sounds like it was written by and for Hallmark. It’s largely why I am not able to put Norton and Winslet in the “good” section: their parts are maligned by cheesiness and boring stereotypes such that these renowned actors cannot salvage them.

The Ugly: Some great representation, but also some annoying gender tropes

If there’s any kind of salvation, it’s that the film has a diverse cast of black and brown actors and actresses, which is great to see. But then there’s the incredibly annoying story trope of the professional woman going through the choice of career or sperm donor pregnancy, which is solved by a man. Which, just ugh.

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