Collateral Beauty is a Hallmark movie on steroids. Imagine all of the sentiment and holiday-tinting, but dressed up with a more palatable script, big-budget production value and an A-list cast. I know that sounds like an attempt at a withering barb, but I mean it in the best light possible.
Here’s the thing. This story of an advertising exec (Will Smith) who suffers an unimaginable loss and subsequently retracts from life is as formulaic as it gets. From the opening moment to the closing credits, you know where this story is heading. But, it’s comforting, in the same way a bowl of macaroni and cheese is like a hug from an old friend. No one is here to make the case that Collateral Beauty is the stuff acclaim is made of, but I’m here to say it was enjoyable all the same.
Back in 2006’s another Kate Winslet character intoned this truth, “I’m looking for cheesy in my life.” And you know what, this time of year, there are days when all I want in the world is to watch a Christmas-adjacent picture where pretty people walk around in cute coats that do nothing to protect them from the swirling movie snow and they don’t care a lick. Instead, they run around and through strongly sentimental and unlikely means, solve all of their problems in time to have a cup of cocoa and good cheer. It’s trite and unrealistic, but aren’t those elements the backbone of escapist cinema?
I can’t fault Collateral Beauty for excelling at being exactly this type of picture. Watching the trailers, I don’t think we were ever promised anything more than a weepy crowd-pleaser. And if I’m going to watch a weepy crowd-pleaser, you better believe I am not going to be mad when Kate the Great, Dame Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, Michael Pena and Edward Norton show up to chew the scenery. Curiously, Will Smith feels more natural here than in Concussion, though the large swaths of the picture he spends in surly silence are quite against type. Meanwhile, Mirren, in particular, seems to be having a blast as a passionate longtime theatre performer who finds herself asked to play the personification of Death. Meanwhile, Knightley is tasked with the role of Love and Latimore with Time.
You see, Winslet, Norton and Pena are desperate to reach their friend, so they hire actors to assume the roles of the non-entities to which Smith’s character has been writing. It’s about connection and closure, they reason. Each of them is also dealing with their own personal drama that conveniently enough ties to one of these three abstractions. So, you see, the stars are aligned for everyone to make the journey we know they must, and serve up that sweet, sweet catharsis.
Taken for what it is, Collateral Beauty is a perfectly serviceable trifle. Don’t go looking for awards contention grandeur or revolutionary style, high action or a modern classic. You won’t find those things here. What you will find is a picture built on sentiment, that works, in its way.