Every now and again, a movie comes along that is destined to be a holiday classic even if that’s not what it’s intention is. When you take a heartwarming and charmingly funny story and set it against the backdrop of Christmas in New York, even though the story has nothing to do with the holiday itself, it’s just the right recipe for a new holiday favorite. Add in a few superstars like Wil Smith, Helen Mirren, Ed Norton, Kate Winslet, and Keira Knightley, all playing brilliantly off of each other, especially of a mostly nonverbal Smith, and you have the second movie this year to take me pleasantly by surprise, Collateral Beauty.
After losing his young daughter to a rare disease, Smith’s character, Howard, is left withdrawn and distant. For most of the movie, he is nonverbal yet displaying a range of emotions beautifully through his eyes and facial expressions, reacting and playing off the other people in the film are all you need to understand his pain and plight. In his desperation to come to terms with his loss, he pens a letter to the 3 abstracts that are death, love, and time. A simple, therapeutic act that his three closest friends try to capitalize on in order to draw their friend back into the world he has so withdrawn from. As with any good spiritually uplifting movie, the friends also find themselves coming to terms with their own issues through the process as well.
Admittedly, I was prepared for a real tear jerker with this film. Dealing with the loss of a close loved one, especially during the holiday season, is by no means an easy feat and something I am all too familiar with. However, director David Frankel, of Marley and Me fame, does a great job of keeping things light hearted and funny for most of the movie.
Even moments where Howard is reacting to people reaching out to him with nothing more than a firm nope, have hints of relatable humor. The abstracts, played by Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, and newcomer Jacob Latimore, bring an air of whimsy to their roles, especially Mirren. In the end, when I found myself getting teary eyed, it wasn’t due to sadness as much as it was from empathy and understanding.
The tears that rolled down my cheek were from understanding how it feels to suddenly lose a close family member and knowing the struggle and how hard it can be to put in words. The anger you feel that they can’t be here anymore and a desire not to misplace it on anyone so you just hold it in, festering, with no release. I cried not because I was sad but because this was such an honest look at how we, as humans deal with death. I cried because Howard used dominoes to make a poignant statement about death.
Throughout the movie we see him setting up elaborate domino displays and setting them off, a way to deal with things, maybe. More so a reminder of something he tells his daughter while setting off a small display with her and she reacts nervously about having knocked over all their work. “It’s ok,” he says, “we just start over again.” That’s an incredibly comforting notion when you feel like everything you had was lost.
This movie was incredibly charming and uplifting. It didn’t feel like I was watching a movie as much as I felt surrounded by good friends. Good friends who care but sometimes have misguided ideas on how to help. The kind of people you are happy to have in your life and share in your experiences. You learn and grow and they learn and grow. I am not usually one for all the sappiness and I hate to say this was a heartwarming movie, but it really was just that.
A movie that reminds us to keep an eye on all the beauty we are surrounded by is something we need more of at the moment. It’s not always about escaping reality, sometimes it’s about seeing it in a more positive light. Now if my review has not been so sweet you’re calling Wilfred Brimley for diabetes advice, then I suggest you go and check out this film as soon as you can.