Front Row Features
Losing a loved one is hard, but dealing with the loss of a child is unbearable. While one would think that premise alone would be enough to move viewers to tears, Academy Award-winning director David Frankel’s (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley & Me”) drama “Collateral Beauty,” now available on DVD (MSRP: $28.98) and Blu-ray (MSRP: $29.98) from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, piles on several additional, unnecessary emotional subplots to try to ensure there isn’t a dry eye watching the film. (A code to download a Digital HD copy of “Collateral Beauty” with UltraViolet is also included with the Blu-ray release, just in case you want to cry on a plane or somewhere else out in public.)
Once a successful New York advertising executive, Howard (Will Smith) is a shadow of his former self after losing his 6-year-old daughter to cancer. He spends his days intricately setting up dominoes in his office, only to knock them down and set them back up again, and his nights at home alone, staring at the wall—that is, when he’s not riding his bicycle into oncoming traffic.
If that wasn’t heart-wrenching enough, Howard’s reclusive nature has begun to affect his relationship with his clients and jeopardize the future of his once thriving company—which, like most things in life, he now couldn’t care less about. So, his coworkers and so-called friends Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña) do what any heartless people would do in their situation: they hire a private investigator to try to prove that Howard isn’t in the right frame of mind to run the company anymore so that they can sell it for $17 a share.
When the PI (Ann Dowd, “Masters of Sex”) discovers Howard’s been writing letters to Love, Time and Death seeking answers from the universe about why his daughter had to die, Whit, Claire and Simon decide to hire three actors to play Love, Time and Death (Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore and Helen Mirren, respectively) to not only try to show Howard that life is still worth living, but also to record his exchanges with them. That way they can edit the actors out of the video so it looks like Howard’s talking to himself and present the footage to the board to finally have him voted off.
And therein lies the main problem with “Collateral Beauty.” Instead of writing a moving, spiritual film that deals with a subject that should easily resonate with viewers (unless you have a heart of stone, who can’t sympathize with a parent losing their child?), screenwriter Allan Loeb (“Rock of Ages,” “Here Comes the Boom”) writes a story that makes the bulk of its characters seem very selfish and unlikeable. Sure, there are some sappy, underdeveloped subplots that are supposed to make viewers sympathize with Howard’s coworkers—divorced dad Whit is trying to win back his estranged daughter (Kylie Rogers, “Miracles from Heaven”); workaholic Claire is desperate to start a family of her own, but fearful that she’s waited too long to do so; and cancer-ridden Simon is trying to make sure his wife and child are financially secure in the future—but none of those storylines really justify Whit, Claire and Simon’s cruel actions. Minus Amy (Knightley), the actress the trio hires to play Love, Winslet’s character is really the only one who ever shows any sort of remorse for what they’re doing.
Will Smith delivers a powerful performance as always, although it’s Mirren as Brigitte who breathes the most life into the film. Mirren gives the movie the limited amount of heart and soul it has, which is a bit ironic considering she’s the actress hired in the film to play Death. Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”) also shines as a grieving mother trying to connect with Howard who runs a support group for parents dealing with the loss of a child.
The single-disc Blu-ray and DVD releases contain just one special feature, “A Modern Fable: Discovering Collateral Beauty.” Running approximately 15 minutes in length, the featurette takes a look at the making of the film and the challenges associated with making a life-affirming fable.
Featuring interviews with the cast and crew, the extra covers casting (while Loeb originally thought his script was just going to be some $2 million indie movie, producer Anthony Bregman recalls that once Smith signed on, Mirren and the rest of the A-list cast followed), the role New York City played in the film (Smith notes there’s a certain magic associated with the city around the holidays), how the cast and crew managed to balance poignancy and comedy while filming the emotional story (“No matter how dark or difficult a scene was that we were doing, we were always looking for the levity,” Smith says) and the chemistry the cast shared on set (Harris jokes that Smith was her tormentor in-between takes while Latimore recalls the time he kept messing up his lines and “Rose from ‘Titanic’” kept telling him he could do it). The cast also discusses what exactly drew them to the project, with Mirren joking that she always wanted to play someone called Brigitte (“It sounds so French,” she says). New mom Knightley actually admits that she gave the script to her mom to read hoping she would tell her to pass on the project and stay home with her baby instead, but that the story ended up moving her mom to tears so she knew she had to do it. Although the making-of featurette is entertaining, be sure to watch it after seeing the film, as it does touch upon a few spoilers.
While Loeb’s script is no doubt emotionally manipulative, it does have its strong points, including a couple of “This is Us”—like shockers at the end that will make viewers want to watch the film again to catch any clues they overlooked the first time. Still, viewers can’t help but feel Loeb was trying too hard to write a movie worthy of the talent attached to it and ended up writing a convoluted script instead that’s somehow both overly emotional and emotionless at the same time. There’s definitely some beauty in “Collateral Beauty.” Viewers just need to overlook a lot of bad things to find it.