Well now that I got the movie that everyone was planning to see this week out of the way, I decided to watch the other movie that came out that absolutely no one was planning on seeing.
And you know what? This may be one of the most conflicting reviews I’ve ever had to write; there’s actually a very interesting and somewhat unique premise in this movie, and a lot of the acting is actually great. But for every great premise, there is one terrible execution or cliche to match it. For every good piece of dialogue, there’s at least three lines that are cheesy or overly-expository. And for every great performance, there is at least one mediocre or downright terrible performance.
This is undoubtedly Will Smith’s best performance of the year… but considering the only other 2016 film he’s been in is Suicide Squad, that’s not really that grand of a statement. His character constantly teeter-totters between being a character that I completely sympathized with and one that I wanted to punch in the face.
His character is basically broken and unfunctional because of his six-year-old daughter’s death, and I can understand that. But he responds by placing his company into a state of utter standstill, causing the potential financial destitution of all of his workers, workers that are dealing with their own terrible crap without selfishly holding onto the company while doing nothing.
And that’s where his friends and coworkers come in; these three have tried for years to get him out of his funk, but since Will Smith refuses to do anything about their situations, they decided they are going to try to make him look insane in order to convince the company’s shareholders to force Smith to give up his majority shareholder position.
This gives our three characters the opportunity for intrigue due to their moral ambiguity…
… but there’s one problem: there plan is extremely and unnecessarily elaborate… if they wanted someone to tape Will Smith being mentally unsound, they could have just presented the fact that he locks himself in his room and refuses to eat or sleep… they could have mentioned that instead of working when he’s at the office, he sets up massive domino sculptures for days on end (sculptures that the movie seems to think are SO COOL because they have long shots of them being knocked down). Hell, there is a scene where Will Smith is so angry about life that he rides his bicycle into oncoming traffic for a good thirty seconds.
Edward Norton was almost completely unemotional in his line execution. There’s a scene where he’s talking to his daughter, and his daughter is talking about how she hates him so much that she’s not going to spend Christmas with him, and his facial response to this seemed more akin to someone who was just told that they ran out of ice cream at McDonalds.
Kate Winslet gave an extremely mixed performance. She was able to portray extreme sadness, concern, and internalized brokenness, but she’s also the queen of boringly executed exposition. And there is ALOT of exposition in this movie. Instead of showing us scenes where we could easily establish certain friendships or trials, they often just tell us them and expect us to take them at their word. Because of this, it does not surprise me at all that most critics did not find this movie emotionally compelling.
Michael Peña probably does the best out of these three. There’s not a moment where he’s demanded an amazing performance, but he did great with what he was given, and that’s all that matters to me.
And then of course, there’s the matter of the embodiments of Death, Time, and Love coming to talk to Will Smith. <SPOILER> But what actually happens is that Edward Norton finds three actors who want to put on a performance they have no money for, so Norton and the other two friends decide to pay these people to act as the embodiments of Death, Time, and Love so that they can go and talk to Will Smith, all the while they’ll be taping his interactions and editing the actors out of the final takes, therefore making it look like Will Smith is mentally unfit. And while this is an… interesting concept that has room for great execution, they certainly do not execute this concept very well at all…</SPOILER>
Helen Mirren as Death is absolutely charming, and I really enjoyed her personality when interacting with Will Smith and with others.
Jacob Latimore as Time was also really entertaining. I thought his performance was great.
Keira Knightley was… about as good as she usually is. I.E. good, but not great. And honestly, the word good might even be a stretch.
But what this movie fails to do is execute the concept well. After thinking about the entire movie as a whole, the more the movie just kind of crumbles apart. There’s a massive amount of missed opportunities because of the script and direction. Because of this, I had a hard time consistently sympathizing with Will Smith; I had an extremely difficult time paying attention to Norton, Winslet, and Peña; and I found it extremely challenging to take Mirren, Latimore, and Knightley seriously.
That being said, there were times where I found many of the performances emotionally compelling… but many of those times I did enjoy those, it was despite the poor execution.
The script is largely incompetent and expository… there was one scene that I had to use up all of my mental strength not to burst out into extreme laughter.
Will Smith is talking to Love, and he’s shouting at her about his dead daughter… and he says, “I felt you inside of me when she called me daddy.” And the wording was so extremely off that I was still laughing about it on the way home. And the movie was so unaware of itself that it put that line in the movie TWICE.
Oh, I guess I should mention the whole idea of “collateral beauty”… because there’s a woman in the movie who talks about how she lost her child too, and that during a time of extreme grief, someone told her to “just remember the collateral beauty…”
So what is the collateral beauty exactly? Bullocks if I know. The movie certainly doesn’t do a good job of explaining what it is, and so it just some sort of vague abstraction.
So basically the collateral beauty is just the title of the movie.
Honestly, I want to give this movie credit for the few things it did right, and for being brave in actually trying a somewhat original idea… but I simply cannot ignore just how awful its execution is. With better direction and a better script (and honestly… a much less cringe-filled trailer), then I could see this movie actually being amazing. However, despite its best efforts, all I can say is that it might be a good movie only for those who enjoy emotionally sappy stories.