When the company faces the likelihood of bankruptcy Howard's three partners (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena) take the drastic measure of manipulating him into thinking he is no longer mentally capable of holding his position, thus facilitating an important sale. Upon hiring a private investigator and discovering that Howard writes ambiguous letters to 'Death', 'Time' and 'Love' they hire three struggling actors to act as apparitions. They are played by Helen Mirren (Death), Jacob Latimore (Time) and Keira Knightley (Love), and in an effort to confuse Howard they respond to his letters in kind, pleading with him to overcome his grief.
So clearly from the premise alone COLLATERAL BEAUTY is a silly film. It flirts with concepts that have been explored countless times in some of Hollywood's most beloved Christmas films, and despite it being a heavy-handed drama, it also presents a whimsical comedy. There's a hint of romance, as well as themes of redemption and acceptance, all of which are heavy handed and archetypal, and regardless of the knowledge that the audience is being manipulated, it feels nice being coaxed.
Will Smith gives a commendable turn as the grief-stricken Howard, with a performance that recalls Adam Sandler's role in REIGN OVER ME. Norton, Winslet and Pena are all good in playing down their support to avoid letting their own (superior) talents outshine the film's star. Mirren, Latimore and Knightley bring a lot of whimsy to the proceedings, with Mirren offering a particularly amusing performance as an aspiring mature-aged actress. It is, indeed, a fine cast.
COLLATERAL BEAUTY is full of flaws, and to invest energy exposing them would be to spoil the magic and frivolity of the film. I am comfortable identifying that the movie lacks subtlety and relies too heavily on sentimentality, and that some of it's character arcs remain unresolved... but to be honest, the overall feel of the film is well intentioned and the payoff, while contrived, leaves a pleasant aftertaste. It also evokes a worthy post-screening conversation, which may just sway negative reactions into positive ones.
Take the film with a grain of salt and suspend your disbelief while you watch it. It might just rub you the right way, just as it did myself and my friends. And what (I think) we might have is a new film to add to an ever-growing list of Christmas films to revisit.