Director: David Frankel

Cast: Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Naomie Harris

Classification: M (Coarse Language)

A movie like ‘Collateral Beauty’ feels right at home nestled amongst Will Smith’s filmography. Having struck gold with ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ (yes, that’s how it is spelt) around a decade ago and furthering his attempts with the less successful ‘Seven Pounds’, these seasonal tearjerkers hardly appear challenging for the star and bank more on the emotional response intended to be evoked from its particularly manipulative structure.

The loss of a child is a tough subject to tackle and though the film isn’t intentionally making light of such a tragedy, the script from Allan Loeb does little to make Smith’s ordeal (his character is suffering from the loss of his six-year-old daughter) seem remotely organic; not entirely surprising however given Loeb’s back catalogue includes such comedic “gems” as ‘Here Comes The Boom’ and ‘Just Go With It’. Having become something of a recluse since his daughter’s death two years prior, the current state of mind of Smith’s advertising exec Howard is brought into question and his trio of business partners (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena) decide to take a rather dramatic step in hopes it will propel Howard back to reality.

Said step involves the hiring of three out-of-work actors (Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore and Keira Knightley) to pose as manifestations of “death”, “time” and “love” to appear to Howard in the hopes that it will help him in his grieving process; Howard having written letters to each of these foundations allows the hired thespians to be flush with knowledge as to make their being seem all the more plausible too. Given the high concept of it all, it’s unsurprising that ‘Collateral Beauty’ doesn’t execute its idea as smoothly as it could, and even though it’s stacked aplenty with proven talent, none of their performances rise above the Hallmark greeting card mentality the film constricts itself to.

In their hopes to help Howard, the characters played by Norton, Winslet and Pena are all paired up with one of the hired actors in a plot convenience to serve their own woes in the passing, and every so often the film redeems itself in showcasing moments of genuine value; Norton seeks Knightley’s advice on how to get through to his distant daughter, Winslet discusses with Latimore her troubles in wanting a child and, in the most effective B-plot, Mirren helps Pena cope with his terminal illness. In addition to these multi-strands, the film introduces a semi-romance of sorts for Smith with Naomie Harris, playing the leader of a bereavement support group for parents dealing with the loss of a child, and it appears as if this relationship is almost going to be successfully implemented until a last moment plot twist is introduced and, frustratingly, all logic is withdrawn.

With the film basing itself around Christmas time its January release here feels a few weeks too late, and given how unapologetically saccharine it is it might’ve been able to take advantage of the holiday season with those easily entertained audiences wanting a movie that’s simply “nice”. Perhaps on paper ‘Collateral Beauty’ felt like a winner, but the final product is clearly a case of something being lost in translation as a worthy cast and suitable director (David Frankel of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘Marley & Me’ fame) are unable to elevate this feature beyond its evident responsive calculation.

My rating: 1.5/5

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