Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Collateral Beauty: Mostly Window Dressing to Get You to the Surprise Ending

Movie Review: Collateral Beauty (2016)
Version: Library borrow

In Collateral Beauty, Howard and Whit partner to create a successful advertising agency, along with the sweat and dedication of Claire and Simon. But when Howard suffers the death of his very young daughter, he retreats from reality and life, putting in peril all that he, Whit, Claire, and Simon have built. Nothing anyone tries to do to help him resolves Howard's deep sorrow. Howard's destructive behaviors begin to affect business to the point that the agency is about to collapse, and Whit decides to sell it rather than have it fail. To do so, Whit has to be able to prove that Howard is mentally incompetent to make the decision on the sale. With the uneasy assistance of Claire and Simon, and the help of three stage actors and a private detective, Whit sets out on an intervention to either bring Howard to his senses or provide the proof he needs.

This film takes a lot on its shoulders to make a point, a point attempted to be made in its title. But the execution comes in the telling, and that's where it comes up short. You have to think long and hard to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, and as obscure as the title is and as strange as the pieces of the puzzle are, it's easy to fumble with the point of the story. The themes are Love, Time, and Death, portrayed by the three actors that Whit employs for the intervention. But it is never really clear how those themes fit into the death of the daughter and how Howard deals with it. Moreover, the title, "collateral beauty" doesn't begin to explain either the desired outcome or the achieved outcome of the story, even though it is referenced at the beginning and end of the film. This is, unfortunately, a scripting problem. The story line is too complex, the writing too evasive.

What is good about Collateral Beauty is the acting. Will Smith puts on an emotional tour de force as Howard, the grieving father. Naomi Harris is riveting as Madeline, the grief counselor but who turns out to have a surprising connection to Howard. Helen Mirren is delicious as the actor portraying Death, Jacob Latimore puts on a strong performance as the actor portraying Time, and Keira Nightley is winsome as the actor portraying Love. Edward Norton as Whit, Kate Winslet as Claire, and Michael Peña as Simon are good as well. Their performances bring a depth to the story that makes up for what the writing fails to provide.

I've read a few explanations for the meaning behind the title in an attempt to understand it. The surprise ending probably best sheds light on everything, but if you have to wait till the last minute for the "Aha!" moment, then the film has failed. All the rest is window dressing simply to get you to the end. In this sense, I believe you will likely find yourself scratching your head looking for its meaning right up to the end and wondering why you sat through everything else. 

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