Monday, 30 March 2020

Movie review: Collateral Beauty, dir David Frankel (2016)

The ambition of this movie somewhat exceeds the abilities of its filmmakers. I watched the whole of it though and this in itself is some guarantee for its entertainment value as, for many films, I might stop watching after five or 10 minutes. It depends on how bad they are.

Here, an ensemble cast – including Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, and Will Smith – promises a rewarding experience. The premise is also promising: a man confronted by the passing of his six-year-old daughter starts writing letters to personifications of death, love, and time that he invents to manage his grief. The drama that emerges involves an elaborate plan to save his finances that is hatched by colleagues at his company.

But the writing is flabby. It’s not just that there is the occasional clanger – as when, in one scene near the end, Howard (Will Smith) inadvertently compares Death (Helen Mirren) to shrivelled fruit – it’s that the place that is being aimed at – the inchoate, the inexpressible – is not well-enough understood by the filmmakers.

You find this often in popular culture. There is the truism taken out of a self-help book or from a producer’s occasional reading about a discovery of Einstein. It gets shunted around between people like a piece of folklore, handed on from one person to another, in each generation, like a coin. There are the sayings that are used as tokens of value to create community, to tie people together (again, often along generational lines). There are the urban legends that turn out, in fact, to be pure fiction but that serve as material for conversations at backyard BBQs in any number of places. This is where meaning is created, because even though there may be no basis in fact in what is being said, the people involved think there is, so a lie or a misunderstanding can have practical use even though it will never actually be worth anything. Reality is subjective but we follow fashion slavishly. Urban myths are surprisingly resilient against action by the truth.

But while this film’s intelligence quotient is not excessively high and the literalness of its narrative expression is overbearing, there are moments of sparkle and promise; aspects of the finale are unexpected and touching. Worth watching, and it’s a short film at just-on 90 minutes’ duration. On Netflix.

No comments: