Stuffed with an A-list cast, this over-sentimental and oddly mercenary festive film almost deserves to be seen to be believed
Save the best for last, the saying goes, so wilfully ignored by Warner Brothers with what is probably the final cinematic release of 2016. In a year of bad blockbusters, this high-concept and mawkish piece of festive nonsense may actually be the very worst. An A-list cast, replete 18 Oscar nominations (and two wins), directed by an Oscar-winning filmmaker, somehow produces something so spectacularly bizarre and bad that it almost seems like a stuffed Christmas turkey laid out specifically for film critics to carve up with gravy and relish.
The film opens with Will Smith’s brand manager Howard delivering a TED talk at a town hall meeting in his firm’s Manhattan offices. Business is good, Howard is happy, and he praises the firm’s understanding of the inanimate qualities that drive life and consumerism: time, death, and love. Fast forward three years and now Howard is so miserable he’s taken to wearing jumpers and a scowl, so lost in grief at the loss of his daughter that he doesn’t eat, barely speaks, furiously pedals his fixie around, and spends his days in the office setting up elaborate domino arrangements, triggering the chain reaction and walking away with his back to it, like an explosion in a Michael Bay movie.
He’s also taken to penning hate mail to the aforementioned time, death, and love, something the private detective his colleagues (Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, and Michael Peña) have hired in an effort to, essentially, coerce into signing over his stake in the business before he tanks it for everyone. To speed things along, they decide to hire three actors (Jacob Latimore, Helen Mirren, and Keira Knightley, respectively) to pretend to be these apparitional beings and engage with Howard. To lull him back to his senses so he can devise, I dunno, a Snapchat campaign, you ask? Nope, to convince him he is having some sort of paranoid schizophrenic episode. Merry Christmas.
Each of the trio of co-workers, in turn, discovers their own problems, with each of the three actors they’ve hired offering them the kind of kooky advice only Brooklyn-living bohemians could. At no point does anybody seem to address the fact that their marketing agency appears to be falling apart because nobody is actually doing any work, while Howard makes fleeting attempts to join a support group for bereaved parents with beautiful hair. There he finds solace in Naomie Harris’s Madeleine, the group leader who reveals where the film’s title comes from, some words of unwarranted advice from some busybody butting in as she sat in a hospital waiting room while her child breathed her last. “Don’t forget to notice the collateral beauty,” she’s advised, whatever that means.
So many questions will occur to you while watching this nonsense; why should I care about Norton’s relationship with his bratty daughter? Why is Peña’s storyline reduced to almost nothing? Why is Helen Mirren wearing the bluest blue contact lenses ever put into anybody’s eyes by hair and make-up? What did they do with all the money?
Some 11th-hour twists will come along, most of which you will have seen coming around 4pm, but this pile of absolute tripe could yet become a so-bad-it’s-good camp classic for years to come.
Verdict: ★★☆☆☆ A film so monumentally hamfisted, Collateral Beauty plays out like the anti-Christmas Carol, without any of the self-awareness of the indirect misery taking place on screen
Collateral Beauty (12A/96mins) is released nationwide on December 26th