Dominoes are fun. They can be played as a game of numbers, or, in your case, positioned upright to create intricate patterns that are fascinating to watch fall into place. Dominoes are also the perfect metaphor for things falling apart. It’s actually called the ‘domino effect’; when one event sets off a chain reaction of similar events. Kind of like what happened to Collateral Beauty, a pretty-looking disaster that collapses under the weight of its own hubris.
For some reason, I take bad movies personally. They anger me in ways I’m usually able to articulate quite well. In the case of Collateral Beauty, I don’t even care enough to be mad. If that’s not a scathing indictment I don’t know what is. Perhaps it’s because this movie is already so cynical, that I didn’t think my ire would add anything useful to the equation. But I’ll try.
Collateral Beauty is a treacly wannabe Hallmark movie full of Big Stars. Stars so big they never transcend the flimsy characters they’re playing. Therefore, I will refer to them by their given names. Will Smith is a partner in a successful Manhattan ad agency who becomes unreachable after the death of his daughter. His partners, Ed Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena, decide to sell the business out from under him, but in order to do so, they must prove that he is crazy. They hire actors Helen Mirren, Keira Knightly and Jacob Lattimore to play Death, Love and Time to stalk Will Smith so they can surreptitiously film the conversations he has with them.
When we first meet ad exec Will Smith he is leading a meeting of Millennials borrowed from an Urban Outfitters casting call. He smugly breaks down his blueprint for selling “shit” (his word): people long for love, wish they had more time, and they fear death. Flash forward a year or so, and he’s a shell of his former self, a mourning father who fills his days, and his office, with elaborately constructed domino set ups (yours, actually), and his nights writing letters to Death, Love and Time. This is when the film goes into cynicism overdrive.
Ed Norton is the architect of the horrible plan to prove Will Smith is emotionally unfit to run the company. See, he had to sell the lion’s share of his partnership to Will Smith when he was about to lose everything in his divorce (due to his philandering, that his angry tween daughter calls “philanthropy”, haha!). Now that the business is tanking due to Will Smith’s grief, Ed Norton sees a way to make some green by selling the company. They’ve already tried everything to help Will Smith, from hiring a grief counsellor to flying in an ayahuasca shaman from Peru. Clearly, they’re out of ideas. The only option now is to convince him that he’s going crazy.
But wait! There are twists! You of all people can appreciate twists. These ones are as schmaltzy and convoluted as I’ve ever seen. Kind of like if M. Night Shyamalan and Nicholas Sparks had a baby that hated depth. And subtlety. And movies. The actors need money to launch a play, so they agree to go along with this ruse for 20 grand. Each. Helen Mirren plays Death, and she’s coupled with Michael Pena, who has a cough, so we know he’s dying. Kate Winslet’s laptop is full of open tabs from a sperm donor website because she’s a hardworking woman who never settled down long enough to have a baby, so of course, she is partnered with the kid playing Time. Ed Norton is estranged from his daughter who hates him for cheating on her mom so he’s teamed up with Keira Knightly’s Love, whom he hits on aggressively. Then there’s the whole group therapy subplot that involves Will Smith angrily cycling to a community centre so he can stare at other grieving parents through the window. It’s painful, and not because he’s lost a child, but because you can actually see him acting.
Did I mention this is a Christmas movie?
This isn’t a bad Christmas movie the way Jingle All the Way is bad. It’s bad because it has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. It was clearly some studio exec’s decision to tack on a few scenes of people skating at Rockefeller Centre because Christmas movies get butts in seats, and then they get replayed for years on TBS because residual cheques are the true meaning of Christmas. There could be an argument made that Death, Love and Time are stand ins for the ghosts of Christmas past, present or future, or even for the three wise men, but constructing that argument would mean I’ve already spent more time thinking about this movie than anyone involved with it did. Except for you.
This is the part of the letter when I typically justify my reasons for writing to the chosen addressee, and wrap up my premise with a tight little bow. Well, fuck that. This movie doesn’t deserve my wit. It doesn’t even deserve my smarm. This movie is the worst kind of pandering pap. It is garbage psycho-babble masquerading as pop-philosophy, set in a Pottery Barn. Your domino set ups were cool. They were the best part of the movie, even though they were completely superfluous and had nothing to do with the plot. People should save their money and watch your Youtube videos instead.
P.S. Half a star because I liked Helen Mirren’s coat.