Choking on Heartstrings (Collateral Beauty Review)

When a successful New York advertising executive named Howard Inlet (Will Smith) suffers a great tragedy, he retreats from life. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. When his notes bring unexpected personal responses, he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.

Releasing the same day as Rogue One probably wasn’t a good idea as this will surely be forgotten and rightfully so. It’s a shame since the trailers looked promising and it boasts an all-star cast featuring Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Helen Mirren just to name a few. The film was just nowhere near what it was made out to be, making it more of a bait and switch.

After losing his young daughter, ad exec Howard Inlet has become distant from his friends and fellow co-workers. The distance has affected his business to the point that it was at risk of losing key clients. Because Howard was the only person between them and a way out, his friends, Whit (Norton), Claire (Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña), try to get him out of the way by discrediting him.

For therapeutic reasons, Howard writes letters to love, time, and death. To discredit him, Whit, Claire, and Simon decide to exploit this by hiring a trio of actors named Brigitte (Mirren), Amy (Keira Knightley), and Raffi (Jacob Latimore) to play each role. Each of them was there to try and help Howard to deal with his grief and to understand the meaning of life. The way this came about just came off as contrived and heavy handed, making it hard to ever take anything seriously.

From that point, the film appeared to be less about Howard and more about his three friends. The three actors helped them with their own problems. These just felt unnecessary and forced and like the film just threw stuff against the wall to see what stuck, making the film more convoluted than it had to be. This made it hard to ever care about any of them and what also didn’t help was that they were not likable characters to begin with for what they did to Howard, regardless of their good intentions for doing so.

This made it easier to care about Howard but he wasn’t that much better. It was difficult to ever connect with him on a personal level due to his lack of character development. The film only gave him a quick introductory scene followed by an off-screen event which made him the way he was now. From what we saw of him, he was mostly quiet and kept to himself, internalizing his grief while avoiding any human interaction.

The only time Howard would ever open up was with a grief counselor named Madeleine (Naomie Harris) who has also experienced the loss of a child. After watching her group from afar, Howard eventually had the courage to join but still refused to tell anyone his daughter’s name. His fascination with her implied that he perhaps already knew her. He eventually opened up but from there, the film began to fall apart (even more so), featuring stupid twist after stupid twist.

Despite the subpar story, the acting was still okay all around with Smith being the worst of the group. He was not very compelling to watch as his performance consisted mostly of making faces and crying. All the other actors were okay but a lot of them gave off the impression that they didn’t want to be there (Knightley and Winslet) while others just phoned it in (Norton and Mirren).

Overall, this was a film with a contrived, convoluted, and sometimes stupid story that tried hard to force us to feel for these characters but it was just hard to care for any of them. The performances were okay for the most part but they almost didn’t matter.

Score: 3.5/10

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