December 13, 2016
West Philadelphia native Will Smith stars in a new movie called "Collateral Beauty." And, by most accounts, it's just awful. By awful, we don't mean just a bad movie. No, according to almost every review of the film thus far, it's — as The Guardian headline put it – "a Chernobyl of toxic sentimentality."
Currently holding a 14 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is about Will Smith's character losing his daughter and writing letters to Love, Time and Death to seek answers for his grief. Those three things materialize in person (think of "The Christmas Carol" ghosts), but they're actually paid actors hired by his co-workers at a Manhattan ad agency trying to get him to sell the firm.
I haven't seen the film, so I can't judge it. It has a star-studded cast: Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley are all in it.
But the reviews aren't just bad. They're brutal. We're talking a leading candidate for the Golden Raspberry Awards brutal.
Here’s a sampling (h/t Entertainment Weekly):
You'll still struggle to accept that what you saw on that screen actually played in theaters, was funded and approved by distributors, took a month or so of the lives of those extraordinary actors.
This horrifyingly yucky, toxically cutesy ensemble dramedy creates a Chernobyl atmosphere of manipulative sentimentality, topped off with an ending which M Night Shyamalan might reject as too ridiculous. This isn’t Frank Capra. It is emotional literacy porn, like an aspirational self-help bestseller written by Keyser Söze. At the end of it, I screamed the way polar bears are supposed to when they get their tongues frozen to the ice.
A decade ago, in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Smith proved he had the stuff to make a down-and-out character stingingly authentic, but in “Collateral Beauty,” when he gets all red-rimmed and teary, it feels like the actor’s showcase it is, because the film’s whole experience of suffering is engineered. Instead of using its metaphysical-deception plot as a conduit to genuine emotion, it just pushes the gimmickry further...
Even if it hadn't come along so soon after Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan's symphonic drama about a father emotionally crippled by loss, Collateral Beauty would look like silly high-concept Hollywood grief porn. That's not to say David Frankel's all-star weepie doesn't work on its own manipulative terms, spreading its trail of goopy sentiment and inspirational homilies with technical finesse and some decent acting against the picturesque backdrop of New York City during the holidays. Audiences unconcerned about their sugar levels might eat it up.
...Will Smith should be looking for better movies.
It comes as no surprise that the best part about “Collateral Beauty” occurs when Dame Helen Mirren, playing an unknown actress (what range!), says: “Maybe I should play all of the parts.” Maybe she should have. Sure, the script would be the same paint-by-numbers melodrama, but at least there might be a kernel of artistry to interpret in this self-satisfied tragedy. And it’d be more fun than watching Will Smith crying on a bike for two hours.