SPOILERS because this movie is INSANE
Based on the trailers, you probably think Collateral Beauty, aka Will Smith’s holiday movie, is some kind of twenty-first century It’s A Wonderful Life, where the universe conspires to convince a sad schmuck that he’s better off being a sad schmuck, and he should learn to appreciate the little things that go with being a sad schmuck, like pleasant memories and warm air sometimes. At best, it might be a mildly satisfactory weepy, the kind of unapologetic adult-oriented schmaltz that doesn’t really get made anymore. At worst, how bad could it really be? It has Will Smith! Everyone likes Will Smith! Plus it has Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Naomie Harris—it can’t be THAT bad, right? Well buckle up, because this is most straight up INSANE movie I’ve seen all year. And I sat through NINE LIVES.
Howard (Will Smith) is deeply depressed after the death of his daughter, and as a result he spends all his time building elaborate domino structures. This is really good for the domino industry, but bad for business because you see, Howard runs an ad agency that’s on the brink of ruin because of Howard’s inattention. Howard used to be the guy saying, “We’re not here to sell sh*t, we’re here to CONNECT!” and he really meant it back then but now he’s like, “This is all bullsh*t leave me to my domino empire,” which really just means he’s a human being who has been alive for more than thirty years.
But the business must be saved! (Does it, though?) So in step Howard’s partners, Claire (Kate Winslet), Simon (Michael Pena), and Whit (Edward Norton). Whit is The Worst and the ringleader of the deeply sociopathic plot the partners hatch to save the company from the encroaching dominoes: They’re going to trick Howard, make it seem like he’s losing his mind, and wrest control of the company away from him so they can sell it.
To accomplish this, Whit has a private investigator (Ann Dowd) follow Howard around and in this way discovers that Howard has been venting to the universe by writing letters to Love, Death, and Time. Whit then decides to hire three actors—Knightley, Mirren, and Jacob Latimore—to pretend to be Love, Death, and Time and film Howard talking to them, only to erase the actors in post to make it look like Howard is arguing with the air. All of this is to make it seem like Howard is the one with the problem and not Whit, who is CLEARLY a psychopath.
So Helen Mirren is like, “You mean, gaslight him?” and at this point the room would have turned on this movie, had anyone else been present while I was watching it. The supposed Christmas weepy about a sad domino man learning to love again is in actual fact a movie about a bunch of monsters trying to ruin their boss’s life because he’s too sad at work.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE.
Howard is also engaged in stalking the leader of a grief support group (Naomie Harris) who encourages him to see the “collateral beauty” all around him, which unless “Collateral Beauty” is the name of a racehorse, is a nonsense phrase. That’s just random words smashed together because apparently someone trademarked “silver linings”. But this subplot has more batsh*t insane things up its sleeve because it turns out Naomie Harris is Will Smith’s wife! TWIST! They’re just pretending to be strangers because Howard is the f*cking whimsicalest person who has ever f*cking been conceived by a human mind. People go through all kinds of sh*t when they lose a kid, it would be perfectly fine to just say that in their grief, Howard and Naomie Harris have become estranged. We don’t need Howard turning their lives into the first act of a dinner theater murder mystery.
BUT WAIT. THERE’S STILL MORE.
Just when you think Collateral Beauty has reached maximum insanity, it finds a whole new level of batsh*t to chew on because there’s another twist. That’s right, this is a TWO TWIST MOVIE. A DOUBLE TWISTER, if you will. Because it also turns out that the “actors” weren’t acting, they really are the personifications of Love, Death, and Time all along! And they gaslighted the gaslighters! They’re there to help Howard, sure, but they also want to help his deranged co-workers and that psychopath Whit, too!
You see, Claire (Winslet) thinks she’s missed her chance for a family so Time is there to reassure her that she can still have kids—she can have it all! And Whit is a monster incapable of feeling love, so Love (Knightley) tries to help him reconnect with his estranged daughter (which he accomplishes through stalking because Whit is THE WORST). And Simon (Pena) is dying but hasn’t told his family yet, so Death is on hand to help him with that. This is by far the most reasonable plotline in this entire movie.
You might be thinking that Collateral Beauty sounds just nuts enough to be an entertaining hate-watch. Grab a couple friends, a glass of wine, and sit back and let the crazy wash over you. But it’s not. Despite the sheer lunacy of its plot, Collateral Beauty is BORING. It’s so boring. If you’re looking for a totally insane movie to hate-watch that stars Will Smith, rent Winter’s Tale. That movie is also batsh*t insane, but it’s bad in the good way. Collateral Beauty is just bad in the bad way.