The thing with films that are seemingly “brainless and breezy” is that we don’t expect much of craft or technical excellence from them. Or a real story.
It’s only a problem when they start taking themselves too seriously and try to add more weight with terms such as ‘Butterfly Effect’ or (in this case) ‘Collateral Beauty’; we realise a good 120 minutes of our lives are wasted.
So Will Smith is Howard, a New York-based ad agency executive; his business partner is Whit (Edward Norton) and their senior employees are Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña). They all happen to be good friends as well, up until Howard loses his daughter of six years to cancer (this is known about 10 minutes into the film). What we get for the rest of the film is a visibly pissed Howard who refuses to communicate with anyone and instead decides to write letters (actual physical letters) to Time, Love and Death.
So here’s a question: what would you do to make a friend like this get back on track? If your answer is to steal those letters, read them and get three struggling actors to personify those concepts and confront him, then have someone clandestinely record those meetings, digitally erase the actors and play the videos to your company board to prove that the man is insane, so that he isn’t in charge of taking important decisions anymore ... ‘Collateral Beauty’ shouldn’t bother you at all.
The movie tries to show how most of the cast are coping with some form of loss, and how talking it out is undoubtedly the best solution. But with such a lazy screenplay (rejected footage from ‘Planet Earth II’ would be more interesting) and the actors (save for Smith, perhaps) giving as much effort as football players would during practice sessions, there really is nothing much to root for. I’d rather have streamed something like ‘Love, Actually’ again to pass time.