Collateral Beauty stars Will Smith as a brilliant man struggling after the death of his child. To cope, he writes letters to the concepts of Death, Time, and Love, which he believes are all crucial to the experience of living. It’s when his letters get answered by what seem to be the personifications of Death, Time, and Love that things get weird. Now, it’s obvious Collateral Beauty is influenced by It’s A Wonderful Life with Smith as George Bailey.
In that film, though, it definitely was an unexplained, otherworldly/religious element that showed George the horror of reality had he not existed. The same could very well be true for Collateral Beauty, but this trailer establishes a few things that raise some doubts. First, his friends, played by Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Michael Pena, all know about Smith’s issues and his letters, and are concerned about him—perhaps enough to hire actors to pretend to be Smith’s bizarre pen pals, in hopes that his character could find some kind of peace.
Yes, this sounds like it would do far more harm that good, but it’s the sort of treacly concept that holiday movies often try to get away with. It’s also worth noting that in the trailer, at one point Michael Pena’s character smiles and applauds Helen Mirren’s “Death,” which lends strong credence to the “Will Smith’s friends have hired actors to spin an elaboration web of deception, but for a good cause” theory. If nothing else, it means whatever their origin, Death, Time and Love are actually there. Smith’s character is not experiencing visions or hallucinations.
So that’s the issue. If Will Smith is actually talking to the personifications of concepts such as Time, this definitely needs to be covered on io9. If he just has insane but well-meaning friends, it shouldn’t. Hopefully we’ll know one way or the other before Collateral Beauty opens December 16 in the U.S.