There is a little bit of sadness in comedy and there is also a little bit of comedy in every tragedy and both magnify during Christmas time. That is what Collateral Beauty tries to encapsulate and it delivers. From Oscar-winning director David Frankel (The Devil wears Prada) comes a movie about the emotions that we try to avoid that make us human.
Will Smith gives a breathtaking performance as Howard, a successful advertising executive that sees his life crumble when his 6 year old daughter dies. In that moment of sorrow, he begins to write letters to love, time and death, losing sight of his reality and his business company. Smith knew he wanted to play this character since he first read the script. "When I first read the script it reminded me of Christmas time. Like a fantasy, magical but dealing with things that are real and human. I love the fact that this guy had everything figured out. Howard thinks about life the way I do," he said. Howard's co-workers, played masterfully by Michael Peña (World Trade Center), Edward Norton (Fight Club) and Kate Winslet (Titanic, Steve Jobs) embark in a journey of trying to help their boss and long time friend without realizing they are also avoiding the deep emotions in their own lives. They decide to hire actors to play love, death and time to confront Howard and to make him snap out of his depression. Norton thinks setting the story in New York City makes it more believable for this characters to co-exist. "New York City's chaos and intensity make it easier to distract Howard. It makes it believable." Frankel agrees, "Christmas in New York is a magical time, I don't think it could've happened anywhere else. It is difficult to describe."
Screenwriter Allan Loeb (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, 21) explained how the script came around. "It was a little story in my head that kept nagging at me about a man who writes letters to abstractions, like time, love and death, but then I didn't know exactly how the story was going to develop." Michael Sugar, the producer, who recently was awarded the Oscar for Best Picture for Spotlight added, "What attracted me to this film was the same thing that attracted me to Spotlight, a group of people giving a voice to a group of people that didn't have one. I find this very human. We all have something to say and we all need someone to hear us."
Love is performed by Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) with passion, impulsiveness, and emotional drama. Time is played by Jacob Latimore (Maze Runner), an angry teenager with an 'I don't care' attitude but the maturity of an old soul. Death is played by Academy Award Winning Actress Helen Mirren (The Queen), an East Village actress who is obsessed with method techniques and lures for people's approval. Surprisingly, Mirren creates most of the comic relief of the film. She explains, "To personify death you have to be as alive as possible. Allan (screenwriter) and David (director) wanted the character to be an East Village actress. I would've been Bridget if my life had gone into a different path. I wasn't thinking of being funny." Smith jokes, "If death dresses like Helen, I have no problem dying."
Jokes aside, the topic of the film affected Smith on a personal level. "My father was diagnosed with cancer and given six weeks to live during the shooting of this film. I was sharing my research on how religion dealt with the inevitable pain with him. I was able to do it as Howard. These ideas have changed me forever. It is the ultimate human difficulty to deal with pain and loss." The topic also touched the crew on a deeper level. Naomi Harris (Spectre) plays a focus group leader for people dealing with the loss of their children. Howard seeks for her help and she tries to use the loss of her own daughter to guide him. Harris explains how difficult this role was to play, "I haven't really suffered a death in my life. When you come to terms with death you enjoy life. Will's wardrobe assistant lost her daughter. She shared the story with us and it was sort of traumatic. She found the Collateral Beauty. That journey helped me. Tragedy cracks you open, it is painful, but light enters you. My character wants to alleviate pain to others. An amazing way to live." Smith also shared what was his character's Collateral Beauty, "Howard was trying to solve his problems with his mind. He had to suffer and let it go. When he released the pain, the Collateral Beauty was the joy. It is on the other side of what he desperately didn't want to feel or experience." When asked which one tortures her the most between love, death or time, Mirren says, "Time, the punishment of time." Smith interrupts, "Nothing tortures me more than love. It has given me a lot of pain. The craving of love is worse than pain or the punishment of life."
This film is not about pain but the beauty around it. Loeb adds, "The way you see the world, the way your heart opens and the way you relate to people after tragedy can be very beautiful. It can be transformative." More than a feel good movie Collateral Beauty deals with the nostalgia that some people feel during Christmas time. Although it deals with death, the film embraces life and teaches you how to live to the fullest. This Christmas time be ready to feel.
See Collateral Beauty in theaters December 16.