Collateral Beauty is a 2016 American drama film directed by David Frankel and written by Allan Loeb. The film stars an ensemble cast of Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Michael Peña and Naomie Harris. The film premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival on December 13, 2016, and was released in the United States on December 16, 2016.
When Howard Inlet (Will Smith), a successful New York advertising executive, suffers a great tragedy, he retreats from his social life. In a supposed attempt to reconnect with him, his concerned coworkers/ "friends" recommend that he starts writing letters to Love, Time and Death. When his notes bring unexpected responses from the embodiment of those three things, 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.
However, it's all a ruse. His coworkers/"friends" have actually hired a private detective and stolen the letters he wrote. They then hired actors to pretend to be Death, Love, and Time and talk with Howard. They then film the conversations and edit out the actors to make it appear that Howard is talking to himself. They then show it to the companies board of directors to convince them he is insane. The plan works and Howard is fired, which he calmly accepts, believing the footage to be real and himself to be insane.
In the meantime, each coworker has their own subplot. The first coworker, Simon, is secretly battling cancer. Whit is trying to reconnect with his daughter, who's mother he cheated on. Claire is unable to get pregnant. After their plan works, Simon and Whit immediately resolve their problems, with Simon coming clean about his health, Whit saying he loves his daughter and will visit her everyday wether she wants him to or not (which causes his daughter to immediately forgive him). Howard also has a romantic subplot in which he falls in love with a woman named Madeleine who also lost her daughter.
At the end of the movie, it is revealed that one of the "actresses" had talked to Madeleine before too. The movie ends with Howard and Madeleine walking away while the three "actors" watch. However, when Madeleine turns toward them, she cannot see them, implying they really were Death, Love, and Time, not just actors.
- False advertising: The advertising makes it sound like a story about Will Smith learning from a meeting with Death, Love, and Time. In reality, these meetings are relatively inconsequential, and the story is mainly about his coworkers just as much as it is about him, if not more.
- The coworkers plan doesn't make sense for a multitude of reasons. Also, editing an entire person and his audio out of an iPhone video isn't technically possible.
- The three coworkers are awful people who kick Howard while he's down and never receive punishment for it. The movie expects us to sympathize with these characters and feel happy for them after they take advantage of a man in grief by lying to him and making him lose his job.
- The three coworkers are never punished for what they did. They all get happy endings except Claire, and even she isn't actually punished.
- Claire's subplot is pointless and doesn't go anywhere.
- We are given no reason to care about Howard's dead daughter. It is another case of "oh, it's a little kid, and she died, so you should be sad.", which isn't fair.
- The movie wants to seem smart through it's plot twists, but it has so many twists that they end up hiding most information. This makes the movie feels like it "cheats" its viewers.
- The acting is very good throughout.
- Cinematography is pretty good.
- Great soundtracks by Theodore Shapiro and great trailer music.
Collateral Beauty was negative reception. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 14% based on 183 reviews, and an average rating of 3.56/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Well-meaning but fundamentally flawed, Collateral Beauty aims for uplift but collapses in unintentional hilarity.". On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 23 out of 100 based on 40 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
Despite the negative reviews, the audience received positive reviews, with 6.2/10 rating on Metacritic, CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it a 76% overall positive score and a 55% "definite recommend", IMDb has rating of 6.8/10, as well as more mixed with 64% score on Rotten Tomatoes and 2.8 score on Letterboxd.