Collateral Beauty | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Collateral Beauty

Even big stars can’t save this feel-good movie with a misguided plot

At a hip Manhattan ad agency, Howard is the “poet philosopher of product” — the kind of Ted Talk-ready dude who credits his success to knowing how advertising taps the “three abstractions” and gets the staff fired up with queries like “What is your why?”

But that was then. Now, Howard (Will Smith) is a suicidal depressive who comes into his glass-cube office only to spend days setting up glaringly obvious metaphors … ahem … elaborate domino falls. Two years ago, his young daughter died, and that’s sad for sure, but his business partners need him to move on. Look — they need the money, OK? Claire (Kate Winslet) is hiring a sperm donor; divorced dad Whit (Edward Norton) has a bratty kid to appease; and Simon (Michael Peña) is dying.

After hiring a detective (the wasted Ann Dowd), the trio discovers Howard has been writing anguished letters to Time, Love and Death, and this leads to the worst idea ever: They hire actors to portray Time (Jacob Latimore), Love (Keira Knightley) and Death (Helen Mirren), who will then confront Howard in the street, while the encounters are filmed. This footage can be used to declare Howard mentally ill, so the gang can take over the ad agency. People, they do this out of love.

Maybe this demented set-up would have worked if Collateral were a pitch-dark comedy and, I dunno, there was some tiny element of entertainment to be found depicting the harassment of a grieving parent. But, as directed by David Frankel, it’s full-on Hallmark — schmaltzy, predictable (except for some unexplained twists, but you’ll be long past caring at that point) and with all the self-righteous smugness of people teaching lessons about caring. I only idly cared that all these A-list actors signed on to this Very Bad Idea — like, truly, “What is your why?”

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