Director: David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada)
Screenplay: Allan Loeb (The Switch)
Cast: Will Smith (I am Legend), Edward Norton (Fight Club)
Runtime: 1hr 37 min
by John DeSando
“As I suspected, you're a rank sentimentalist.” Captain Renault to Rick Blaine in Casablanca.
Depending on Louis Renault’s definition of Rick’s quiet generosity, Collateral Beauty may rely heavily on the notion that its hero, Howard (Will Smith), is so sentimental about the loss of his five-year-old daughter that he is a non-functioning human being. Such role requires Will Smith to cry and brood excessively.
After more than an hour of Howard’s introspective boredom, some relief comes in the Twilight Zone, Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life motifs starring the abstractions Love (Keira Knightley), Time (Jacob Lattimore), and Death (Helen Mirren). They visit Howard at different times to question his withdrawal from a responsible life a full two years after his daughter’s death.
With a leitmotif of cascading domino pieces, it’s hard to miss the implicit connection of all living things with a nod to the swift passage of time. Having seen George Bailey’s redemption, we should not expect such a powerful transformation of Howard, for this film lacks the attachment to life that Wonderful Life indulges at its end.
Collateral Beauty is a small film with big ideas of connecting itself with the great Christmas stories of the past, but it indulges so many troubled minor characters that it dares to miss the single necessary transformation of Howard in any depth. Watching him ride a bicycle is not my idea of thematic or character development.
Collateral Beauty at best is a diversion from the season’s numbing good deeds messages. Its sappy story numbs on its own.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com