ProTip: If you ever meet TK in person, do not drink an entire Texas-sized margarita at Dallas Barbecue and sass him to his face.
ProTip the second: If you ever meet TK in person, do punch him in the jaw for me, because he’s the only reason I had to watch this festering, melodramatic circlejerk of a movie.
Where to fucking start.
Will Smith plays Howard, an ad exec who’s lost his daughter to cancer. Two years after the fact, he’s not coping particularly well—he doesn’t pay his rent, he barely sleeps, and instead of working, he goes into the office every day and sets up elaborate domino structures. If you ever wanted a movie where a SUPER INTENSE Will Smith plays with dominoes while a sub-Hallmark Movie schmaltzy score plays in the background, this movie is for you. There’s also SUPER INTENSE biking against traffic and SUPER INTENSE visiting the dog park and SUPER INTENSE riding the subway in awkward silence.
WILL SMITH: MAXIMUM INTENSITY.
Howard’s coworkers—Claire (Kate Winslet), Simon (Michael Peña), and Whit (Edward Norton)—decide, hey, sad about their boss’ dead daughter and all, but this company’s going to go under if he doesn’t get his shit together. Their genius plan is this: Howard is obsessed with the concepts of Love, Death, and Time, which is a completely reasonable character trait and not some bullshit plot conceit, no sir. He’s so obsessed, in fact, that he wrote a letter to each of them, which Whit finds out about from the private detective (Ann Dowd) he followed to hire his boss around. That seem a little shifty? Just wait. Whit, Claire and Simon hire three struggling actors to confront Howard while pretending to be Love, Death, and Time. They even pretend they don’t see them. The idea is that he’ll either have a breakthrough or they’ll be able to convince the board he’s had a mental breakdown and force him out of the company.
That sound like a horror movie to you? Assholes convince grieving father he’s going insane for their own financial benefit? SURPRISE, IT’S A FEEL-GOOD CHRISTMAS MOVIE.
To be clear, Collateral Beauty writer Allan Loeb (oh of fucking course it’s Allan Loeb) knows that there’s something ever-so-slightly morally suspect about this plan. Brigitte/Death (Helen Mirren), when it’s pitched to her, straight-up says, “So you want us to gaslight this guy?” Amy/Love Actually (Keira Knightley) initially objects, too, on the grounds that WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE. But those objections are brushed aside, by Howard’s coworkers and by the movie itself. It’s for Howard’s own good, you see. Even if part of the deception is goading Howard into blowing up at Love (Actually), Death, and Time, secretly filming him, and then digitally removing the other person from the video so it looks like he’s ranting at thin air.
That’s completely fine.
No one here is a sociopath.
Everything about Collateral Beauty is bizarrely misguided. It thinks it’s some soulful meditation on loss and grief, but it’s about as deep as a kiddie swimming pool.
Here’s Whit, reflecting on the birth of his daughter: “I realized I wasn’t feeling love. I had become love.”
Raffi/Time: “I don’t understand dominoes. There’s no board to play them on, or basket to throw them into.”
Brigitte/Death: “They grieve. Dogs. They grieve, they fully understand death.”
And Brigitte talking to Simon, who doesn’t want to let his family know that his cancer has come out of remission: “You’re dying?” “Everyone’s dying.” “Yeah, but you’re doing it now.”
Raffi/Time is referred to as a “thug” and jokes with Claire that he’s going to use his ill-gotten acting money to buy designer drugs—she’s nervous that she had to bring his $20,000 in cash up to (gasp) 181st St., you see. Whit, meanwhile, aggressively flirts with Amy, following her around and initiating unwanted physical contact. Amy, despite her clear lack of interest, finds Whit endearing and suggests that he apply his “persistence” to spending time with his young daughter Allison, who’s refused to have anything to do with him since he cheated on his now-ex wife. “So you’re stalking me?,” Allison asks Papa Dearest when Whit announces his intention to wait for her outside her school every day. It’s supposed to be cute.
The twist, of course, is that Brigitte, Amy, and Raffi really are Death, Love, and Time, and they’re here not just to help Howard but Whit, Simon, and Claire as well. (Claire’s dilemma is that she’s been so focused on her career that she worries she hasn’t left herself enough time to start a family. Of course. Women. Can. We. Have. It. All?!?!?!?!) You see it coming form a mile away. Another plot twist, this time involving Howard and group therapy leader and grieving mother Madeleine (Naomie Harris), is equally predictable and equally cheesy.
OK, so, Collateral Beauty is batshit. You may be wondering, at this point, whether it’s batshit enough to qualify as a hate watch. The answer to that is a decided “no.” Collateral Beauty is nonsensical, but it’s not nonsensical in a Winter’s Tale flying rainbow horse way. It’s just dull. It’s impossible to connect with the characters, because all the characters are fucking assholes, even if they’re not acknowledged as such. The cast is top-notch, and the actors give it their all—particularly Smith, who’s a goddamned professional even in crap movies, cough Suicide Squad cough—but nothing can make up for the utter tone deafness of the movie as a whole.
So thanks, TK, you asshole. You may have won the battle, but I’ll win the war.