Collateral Beauty ***

Will Smith tearjerker is uplifting and enjoyable in all the right ways.  

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Collateral Beauty” is the feel-good holiday movie many films aspire to be and few actually are. It’s humorous, heartbreaking and uplifting, and nicely performed by a notable ensemble that clearly loves the material.

Will Smith plays Howard, a successful ad exec who lost his six year-old daughter to cancer. He’s not handling it well. He refuses to speak to others, doesn’t eat, lives hermetically, and worst of all for his employees, his business is failing.

Unable to reach him on any level, colleagues and friends Claire (Kate Winslet), Whit (Edward Norton) and Simon (Michael Pena) hire private investigator Sally (Ann Dowd) to discover more about how he is living. Sally reveals that Howard wrote letters to Love, Death and Time, venting about how they all betrayed him. Inspired, Claire and co. hire three actors to portray Love, Death and Time and speak directly to Howard. Aimee (Keira Knightley) is Love, Brigitte (Helen Mirren) plays Death, and Raffi (Jacob Latimore) is Time. As Howard encounters the physical manifestations of these abstract concepts he starts to come to terms with his situation; attending a grief counseling group led by Madeleine (Naomi Harris) and full of other parents who’ve lost children also helps.

Director David Frankel’s (“Marley & Me”) film may sound hokey/cheesy, but it’s really not. It’s actually quite well done, subtle, never over the top, and has a nice twist or two in the end. Best of all, it’s creative. The script by Allan Loeb (“The Dilemma”) plays with the ideas of love, death and time in the opening scene, and in doing so connects with universal truths: That love is something we long for, we wish we had more time, and we fear death. Now perspective on that changes as we age, but it’s nonetheless easy to accept in this context. Moreover, seeing these concepts/ideas in physical form brings to life something audiences can otherwise never see, which makes it wonderfully inventive.

Of course, it’s also the cast that really makes the story sing. Knightley, Mirren and Latimore bring an energy that suggests they’re having just as much fun playing Love, Death and Time as we are watching them; in fact, that fun is probably why we enjoy watching them so much. Slightly more serious are Winslet, Norton and Pena, who get more screen time and deal with harsher realities. Still, as their characters interact with Aimee, Brigitte and Raffi, and reveal troubles of their own, the humanity becomes endearing. As for Smith, his dour character is mostly a drag (understandably so), but he works well with Harris and it’s worth noting that his natural charisma is suppressed for the sake of Howard’s pain. He’s done this in other films (“The Pursuit of Happyness”), and effectively pulls it off again here.

In its totality, “Collateral Beauty” is good for the soul. Go see it on a cold day and it’ll warm the heart in all the right ways.

Did you know?
It took three days to set up the more than 10,000 dominoes that Howard knocks over in the beginning of the film.

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