Kenny’s review published on Letterboxd :
Collateral Beauty is a film that could lead to your next existential crisis. It’s a film that is quite perceptive when it comes to delving deep into many cosmic abstractions. However, its characters are far from that, resulting in a transparent film that strays completely away from the thought provoking themes it’s characters are supposed to be shedding light upon.
Will Smith stars as Howard, a successful corporate executive who loses his daughter to cancer. Unable to fully accept her death and move on, he isolates himself from his friends, family and co-executives, resulting in the decline of his business because he also refuses to talk to any of their clients. This man is going through severe pain and because of the feel-good nature of the trailers, you would think the purpose of the film is about his friends helping him get his life back? Well, boy, are you in for a surprise because when he and his fellow co-executive friends, played by Kate Winslet, Michael Pena and Edward Norton, are offered a great deal of money for their company, they come up with a scheme to prove his mental incompetence to the board, so that they will have the authority to take they deal without him. They hire three actors to the play the roles of three abstractions that Howard has been writing letters to. They’re to follow him and engage him in these philosophical conversations about these abstractions while his co-executive film the entire thing, so they can edit the actor out and it’ll look like Howard is talking to no one. However, like The 2001 animated film, Waking Life, this film also explores some of the concepts that make up our existence on Earth and like Howard, the main character in Waking Life goes around having these existential conversations with strangers about things like love, dreaming, power and even time.
“Time” explains that we place too much importance on him and in doing so we’re merely wasting it. It feels like there’s not enough time for anything, but in actuality we actually have all the time in world. “Death” says that everyone is dying. We see it every time we look in the mirror, but we ignore it until it catches up with us and then we blame it for all our problems. And lastly, “Love” states she’s within what makes us happy, but also in how we hurt. But how do we deal with love and pain if they’re just two different sides of the same coin? What are we supposed to do with all this time we’re supposedly wasting? And how do we go on living our lives when we know we’re all to die and more importantly, why should we?
There’s no explanation to what we are supposed to do with these things which feels like the most important thing because Howard’s whole dilemma is that he doesn’t know what to do. We live, find love, have a family, watch our children grow up and then we die and the movie uses this this as one possible answers for the meaning of life, but none of the characters in this film can follow the supposed path for a perfect life. Howard’s love has died with his daughter whom he’ll never see grow up. One of his co-executives played by Michael Pena has cancer and he will ultimately lose the opportunity to watch his children grow up, too. Edward Norton is a recent divorcee with a daughter who doesn’t want to see him. Kate Winslet has never married, leaving her also loveless and without children. All four of them have lost very important things, yet refuse to see Howard’s pain even though he’s lost the most. These enlightening conversations are supposed to help him find another meaning to live, but he doesn’t mainly because the conversations were set up for malicious reasons. In the end, Howard accepts his daughter’s death, but the film never explores how that actually happened.
We get the what, when, where, why and how, but the film never attempts to explain the meaning of life simply because it can’t. No one can. Collateral Beauty does the same thing, but it actually does provide us with one of the possible meanings of life. However, when this proves to be untrue for everyone, the film is supposed to give Howard another reason to live, but it doesn’t, which just defeats the movie’s purpose and while time is one of the film’s most important themes, the film actually seems like a waste of ours.