Two elements turned my head to Collateral Beauty – first the title, which makes you ponder, and secondly the huge cast.
Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightly, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris, Michael Peña…it’s got to be good, right?
It starts with Howard (Smith), Whit (Norton), Claire (Winslet) and Simon (Peña) at a company meeting – the sort of firm where you go from floor to floor on helter-skelter slides and then nip from meeting to meeting (where you brainstorm while throwing jellybeans into each other’s mouths, lying on cowhide rugs) on scooters. Whopping and cheering employees are being reminded what a great year they have had at this ad agency and charged with giving some final motivational words of wisdom to keep the momentum going is Ted-talking visionary Howard, who channels his inner Steve Jobs with bants about the three abstractions of life: Love, Time and Death. Specifically, we long for love, we wish we had more time and we fear death – ultimate drivers for consumer spending.
Cut to a very different Howard three years later. Ruined by a terrible family tragedy, he is now spending most of his time building Guinness Book of Record-worthy domino structures and making his management colleagues nervous as his mental demise threatens to spell the end of some rather lucrative client accounts. Whit, Claire and Simon need a plan.
When an actress improves upon Whit’s script at a casting, he follows her into a basement theatre where she (Knightly) and two fellow performers (Mirren and Jacob Latimore) are doing their finest thesp. As letters are intercepted that Howard has written to Love, Time and Death, a scam flourishes; recruit the actors to incarnate the concepts, appeal directly to Howard, film the exchanges, edit out the characters and make him look so crazy that the board will have no choice but to relieve him of his post, thus safeguarding the income stream.
But there are of course significant lessons to be learned here and it is the plotters who also need to examine their own lives through the course of their misguided mission. A failed marriage, a serious illness and the choice between career and children all get the spotlight shone brightly upon them.
Played out in a twinkly festive New York, I am not averse to a smattering of schmaltz – mulled cider will do this to me at this time of the year. And director David Frankel has been responsible for the likes of The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, both eminently watchable if you are in the right mood. However, Allan Loeb’s screenplay is clunky and mechanical and does not stretch the talent making themselves available for this movie.
There are some moments which go deeper into the emotional quagmire, revealing the inner anguish. The soliloquy on the subway citing all the clichés you have ever heard about loss is a decent piece of writing and acting. Time spent with Harris as Madeline, who runs a bereavement group, is authentic. Norton and Knightly have some chemistry. And the idea of the title (that moments of loss are offset by revelations of human wonder at the resulting gestures of compassion and kindness. At least…I think that is how collateral beauty is supposed to work), but that does not get the treatment it truly deserves.
I have seen Manchester By The Sea and A Ghost Story this year, which set the bar for explorations of grief.
Just hire Hitch is my advice if you are purely craving a Will Smith fix and you won’t be disappointed.
A tough but important watch is Raped: My Story, a Channel 5 documentary now available to catch up.
Nine women and one man speak candidly to the camera about their experiences of sexual assault and how it has affected their lives. There is only one conviction to detail between them.
The statistics stack up. An estimated 97,000 rapes are reported in Britain each year with only three per cent of cases that go to trial resulting in any degree of justice.
Following a string of high-profile allegations, more members of the public have been coming forward to talk about the issue. And as it stands, more than half a million people have shared using the hashtag #MeToo
What is shocking about this collection of stories is how it could have been any one of us – walked home by a friend of a friend, following a first date, a best friend’s brother taking advantage on a sleepover, not taking no for an answer, a partner revealing a warped idea of sex, separated from friends on a night out, drinks spiked, threats of bringing shame on a family, targeting the vulnerable.
Standard, routine, typical, familiar every day situations. This is a brave group of people. I hope it has proved an empowering and cathartic experience for them to be a part of this programme as the fact uniting them before it was they all felt to blame.