Here’s a question: if you’re a screenwriter, what’s one way to get your script noticed by major film studios? Why, getting it on the Black List of course. For all of you out there that don’t know what the Black List is, its an annual list released every December that showcases the most popular scripts currently floating around in Hollywood. The list has been going for over a decade now and many scripts that have featured on it have gone to be either box office or critically acclaimed hits (some of these include THE SOCIAL NETWORK, JUNO, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, THE INTIMATION GAME, PRISONERS and many, many more). However every now and again, they have included some films that are very questionable as to why they are on there. One of those in particular is the all-star grief themed drama COLLATERAL BEAUTY. Was that you ask? Read on and you’ll find out!
The film tells the story of Howard Inlet (Will Smith), a successful advertising executive whose life has been shattered after he tragic death of his young daughter two years prior. Unable to cope his depression, he’s cuts himself off from everyone he’s knows and becomes a loner. Fearing that Howard’s behaviour may put their business in danger of bankruptcy, his friends/business partners Whit, Claire & Simon (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet & Michael Pena) decide to do something to both help him and take control of the company. They hire a private investigator (Ann Dowd) to follow Howard around so that find some evidence that proves he is unfit to run the company. What they find out from the P.I. is that every day Howard drops off three letters in the post that are individually address to Love, Time and Death. Despite finding it odd that he would be writing letters to abstracts, Howard’s friends come up with an idea: they’ll hire three actors named Amy, Raffi & Bridgitte (Keira Knightly, Jacob Latimore and Helen Mirren) to act as Love, Time & Death so they help Howard overcome his grief and sell his shares of the company.
After reading the synopsis, I think that it would be a fair statement that this film’s premise is, to put it bluntly, rather bizarre to say this least. That being said though, I was still rather curious to see the filmmakers were able to make it work since this is kind of high-concept premise that could go either way. Plus having a major cast like this one does definitely adds an intriguing factor to it as well. So how did the film turn out? I hate to say this but I’m not going to lie: this was completely misguided and poorly made film that’s an almost a compete disaster for everyone involved. It does start off being an okay if sentimental and contrived tear-jerker but as it goes along, it’s story becomes so ridiculous and far-fetched that I honestly couldn’t believe that nobody thought that any of it was a good idea when they were making it. Especially with the 3rd act, which has one of the most stupidest endings that I have seen a film in quite a while. How they were able to get able to get away with something so unbelievably dumb I’ll never know. No joke I was rolling my eyes when it was all happening. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the reasons that the film turned out the way it did was due to the script by Allan Loeb (who wrote/co-wrote the scripts for THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS, JUST GO WITH IT and HERE COMES THE BOOM).
You know I can understand why a lot of people would have gravitated to Allan Loeb’s script. It has a premise that probably sounded really intriguing on paper but unfortunately, the end result just didn’t work at all. There are some interesting themes and ideas that it wants to explore but the execution of it is so badly done, that it comes off as rather clumsy, disingenuous and emotionally hollow. Especially if you’re tackling a major theme such as grief in it. I honestly wouldn’t blame anyone to thinking that it was slightly offensive to how it’s handled here. Now despite its problematic script, the film’s direction wasn’t anything to write home about as well. While director David Frankel has made some pretty solid films in the past (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, MARLEY & ME, HOPE SPRINGS), he definitely wasn’t the right person to direct this film (although to be fair, I don’t know how anyone could have made this script work). His direction here was so manipulative and heavy-handed that it made the film feel like a slightly bigger budget version of Hallmark Channel TV movie. Even the film’s humour out-of-place and tonally jarring. The way that he handles the film’s emotionally dramatic/whimsical lighthearted comedic . Plus it doesn’t help that every emotional scene is underscored by a sad acoustic pop song, which makes the use of it in the scene very unsubtle and unneeded.
Now you’re probably wondering, was there any aspects that I found positive about the film? As a matter of fact there is and it’s one that I believe stop this film from being a truly terrible: the cast. While this film would definitely be considered a low point in each of their careers, the cast was still able to give solid work despite the material their were given. I mean with a great cast that the filmmakers were able to assemble for this film, you know for certain that no one is going to phone-it-in. The major stand out for me was definitely Will Smith, who gave a strong performance as ‘Howard’. While I had major problems with the way the film delves into grief, Smith was able to overcome the weaknesses of the script to give a believable and sympathetic performance. Also the subplot where he strikes up a friendship with a grief counsellor named ‘Madeline’ (played by Naomie Harris, who’s also really good) were some of strongest scenes in the film. The supporting cast was also very solid in their roles as well. Especially Keira Knightley, Michael Pena and Helen Mirren, who stood out the most with their turns (Knightley provides the film’s moral centre). Also on a technical front, the cinematography by Maryse Alberti (who also shot THE WRESTLER, CREED, THE VISIT and many notable documentaries) was nicely done too.
Overall despite the solid work from its all-star cast, sadly they weren’t able to save COLLATERAL BEAUTY from being a misfire. I know that filmmakers went into this with the best of intentions by making a unique and emotional high-concept film about grief but unfortunately, it ended up as a complete utter mess that’s both incredibly silly and morally weird. I guess the question is, could the story have worked in other hands? I’m not sure. What I do know is that this great cast deserved way better material than the one that they got with this awful film.
Review written by Bede Jermyn