"What – what do you mean your favorite song is 'Parents Just Don't Understand?!'" Howard (Will Smith, right) talks over things with the woman is being led to believe is the embodiment of Death, a.k.a. aspiring play actress Brigitte (Helen Mirren) in a scene from Warner Bros. drama COLLATERAL BEAUTY. Credit: Barry Wetcher © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Village Roadshow Films North America and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, LLC.


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Helen Mirren, Kiera Knightley, Jacob Latimore, Ann Dowd and Naomie Harris

WRITER(S): Allan Loeb

DIRECTOR(S): David Frankel


HERE'S THE STORY: Howard (Will Smith) was once a brilliant, vibrant man who, along with his best friend Whit (Edward Norton) ran one of the most successful, hip ad agencies in New York City. He was great at his job because he knew that – or at least believed – everyone can be influenced to buy a product because of how it relates to the impact of love, time or death in their life.

Then his 6 year-old daughter died from cancer. And Howard checked out of the world as everyone around him knew it.

Now, with Howard spending most of his days building complex domino displays and sitting for hours at a dog park, the company he built is on the verge of falling apart unless a big deal is completed. But given that Howard has the major sway to sign off on the deal, Whit, Howard's one-time mentee Claire (Kate Winslet) and the upstart Simon (Michael Peña) need to come up with a plan to save the company ... And their friend in the process. So when they hire a private investigator (Ann Dowd) to follow him, they find out just who – or make that what – Howard spends most of his time doing when he's at his apartment alone. 

This leads to the idea to hire three actors to play the embodiment of the three emotions that used to rule Howard's work life – Time (Jacob Latimore), Love (Kiera Knightley) and Death (Helen Mirren). But will their actions pay off? Or perhaps Howard will finally get the breakthrough he needs if he ever decides to go to the grief counseling meetings he sees Madeline (Naomie Harris) leading each week.

Whatever it is, perhaps he will one day learn to see the collateral beauty in his existence ...

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? People who have experienced the loss of a child but been able to find a way to cope/overcome the pain; Will Smith fans; Helen Mirren fans; those in need of a film that will serve as the outlet for a good cry

WHO WON'T (OR SHOULDN'T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? People who have suffered the loss of a child but are not in a place where they can watch a film about the subject; those who hate films with a heavy-handed approach to delivering their messages; those who hate films with twist endings that feel unnatural/unnecessary; those will find the characters' interconnections off-putting/hokey

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? A film that some will love and others will likely despise despite very good intentions, Collateral Beauty is a film where its actors do their best to make up for its story's misgivings – and usually, it works.

As always, Smith is dynamic as the incredibly grief-stricken Howard. While we only get a brief glimpse of him at his best in happier times, it is enough for us to be able to appreciate just how much he is devastated by his daughter's passing. Confession: I actually went to the screening of Collateral Beauty with a friend who has actually lost a child; watching the film, she was overcome with impressed emotion at Smith's depiction of Howard's agony, marveling at how things only someone who has lost a child would understand coming through in his performance. Smith's performance – save for that of is also by far the most believable of nearly anyone else in the cast, as Norton, Winslet and company sometimes border on the edge of being overtly melodramatic as opposed to naturally concerned. Seriously, you take Smith (and to a lesser degree, Harris) out of the picture and the film loses half its appeal (and half of this rating). 

Why is the film so dependent on Smith to save it? Well, you could credit that to the somewhat over the top performances of the rest of the cast, the presentation under director David Frankel and the Hallmark card-like dialogue. (Seriously, it's either comedically ironic how Howard's friends hire aspiring, Shakespeare-spewing insightful dialogue or sadly ironic writer Allan Loeb didn't realize his attempts at often being deep feel terribly trite more often than not.) Add in the twist at the end and if you are irritated by anything mentioned here previously, the tear-jerking moment might simply be met with indifference. 

Still, Collateral Beauty works out as it is a classic audience pleaser with its message coupled with Smith's and Harris' respective performances, especially older audiences or anyone in need of a positive-out-of-a-negative experience. The cast as a whole is unoffensive in their performances, Smith is dynamic in his and the "you're going to cry and this scene is determined to make you with its deep connections to other moments in the film is strong enough to make most appreciate what Frankel and company were trying to do.

It's just too bad there was a lot of collateral damage along the way to get there. 



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