Collateral Beauty is the year’s best comedy so far. Even when it’s not trying to be. Especially when it’s not trying to be. It’s not inept, it’s just that every aspect of the premise that it is built upon is so comically misjudged that when Will Smith is trying to be all weepy about his dead daughter my cheeks are still wet from the tears I shed imagining the scriptwriting process. The film uses falling dominoes as a visual metaphor; would that our depressed ex-dad built houses of cards, it’d lead to an easier goof.
So, I’m gonna have to spoil a key plot point here because, let’s face it, you had no intention of seeing this anyway and it’s the only way to get the rubberneckers on board. I’ll start off slow. Our main characters are Ed Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña, I’m sure they have names but the film is polite enough to not push them too hard. They are executives in a New York ad agency. Great, love these guys already. Two years after the death of Will Smith’s daughter he still hasn’t returned to work and the business is starting to flounder without him.
They do what any sensible, caring, reasonable co-workers would do: they employ a private detective to follow him in order to see what dirt they can dig up. After finding that he has been writing letters to the concepts of Love, Death and Time as a form of therapy they hatch an even more loving, caring and reasonable plot: They employ three jobbing actors Keira Knightly, Helen Mirren and Jacob Latimore (who, come on, you want to portray three struggling actors, maybe not these people, maybe not these…) to portray the aforementioned concepts in an attempt to convince Will that he’s insane in order to gain control of his shares of the company.
Bear in mind that this is a man who we just saw in a previous scene cycling full speed into oncoming traffic. But nah, stick with your shitty plan guys, sounds fucking fantastic. Like, that’s the level of insanity that the film proposes as a baseline. It just gets stupider and weirder from there and, oh God, I can’t.
The performances are all over the place here, not always in terms of quality, but in terms of form. Our ad execs are playing pantomime, they’re full on cartoon characters. Good for them, the chosen group of actors are good at playing wacky cats, Peña especially who just has that little cutie face which… Anyway. The trio of actors are all playing it straight, to them, this is a serious piece and the material demands respect (a note: it totally doesn’t) they try to seem like humans, they don’t quite manage. Will is in Oscar mode. Which I like on him occasionally, like seeing a sloppy guy put on a nice suit. Here his dour expression and bloodshot eyes contrast so totally with every other presentational aspect of the film, that fuck. Whenever he open his mouth to describe his pain, nope, never has a flat expression of loss struck the funny bone so hard.
Holy hell, I’ve probably made it clear by this point how they’re all assholes. Like all of them. Like, even Will turns up to work, sets his Dominos without talking to anyone, then walks out of the room as they fall. Allan Loeb’s script is in love with assholes, which turns into its greatest flaw. You see, in order for any of this elaborate Scooby-Doo-villain plan to work we have to believe that Will believes these actors are Love Death and Time. Their performances in these roles are some of the most pathetic ever put to screen. You wanna believe it’s a joke, these people are so goddamn unconvincing that even grieving Will should be able to see through their bad acting. You wanna laugh right in their faces. See Loeb is so good at scripting sarcasm that when he strives for sincerity he slips, and the stream of shit that slides from our characters mouths is simply stupid.
That’s the word, stupid. It’s a stupid movie. With a stupid script. And stupid direction. And some stupid acting choices. And some twists, not revealed here, that are as stupid as all the above put together. It’s worth it though, because as Willy gurns to squeeze one more tear out those ducts of his they flow freely down my face as I shake with silent laughter.
A note for the filmmakers, next time make it queerer. What’s the point in creating this campy bullshit if it always gotta be so darn straight? Time looks like he could do with a boyfriend. Just sayin.