This may have been due to the script, which comes from Allan Loeb who is mostly known for light comedy material such as The Switch (2010), The Dilemma (2011), Just Go With It (2011) and Here Comes the Boom (2012), as well as the Young Adult space drama The Space Between Us (2017) that came out a couple of months after Collateral Beauty opened. It is hard to imagine how Collateral Beauty managed to get greenlit as a script. The film comes with one of the most ridiculous set-ups in recent memory. Allan Loeb seems to have wanted to make something like a variant on Its a Wonderful Life (1946) by way of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol (1843) as a positive inspirational drama about grief! In the preposterous plot, Edward Norton wants to conduct a hostile acquisition of Will Smiths shares by having him declared mentally incompetent. One of the most absurd parts of Nortons scheme involves him hiring three actors to pretend to be abstract entities and start having conversations with Will. He then secretly has these videotaped and has hired an effects company to digitally erase all trace of the actors so as to give the impression that Will is talking to himself.
There are just a few problems with this scenario. Not that least of which is that it requires a level of digital effects technology that is beyond even most top of the line contemporary effects houses any decent defence lawyer would have demanded access to the original tapes and conducted a forensic examination where it would easily be ascertained that they had been digitally altered. And okay you can argue that Will is not in his right mind and didnt think to legally contest the takeover but there is no way that Edward Norton would have known he would act that way. (Not to mention that in any real world setting, Edward Norton should be sent to jail for fraud and embezzlement, something that not a single character who is in the know seems to raise the slightest objection to anywhere throughout). Furthermore, the entire scheme hangs on Will not only buying the charade but interacting with the actors in a public place where they must convince him that nobody else can see them. Put it another way the whole scheme hangs on no other passerby bumping into the actors or even having to step around them on a busy street whereupon the entire plausibility of the scheme would evaporate. Or for that matter none of the actors ever going on to become famous and having Will see them in a tv show one day or even they bumping into Will on the street and he suddenly recognising them. Edward Norton first meets Keira Knightley when she comes to an audition for a commercial what if she or one of the others, who are after all meant to be struggling actors, were to turn up at a subsequent audition?
The other part that gets is me is the pretentious meaningless of Allan Loebs dialogue and the pseudo-profound phrases he tosses at us throughout. Naomie Harris has a speech where she explains what the films title phrase collateral beauty means. Even after watching the scene, I can still say I have no idea what she is talking about. Helen Mirren tells Kate Winslet: You see, children dont come from you, they go through you, which I am sure holds some deep insight into motherhood but I have no idea what the heck she actually means. Edward Norton describes the birth of his daughter with the line It wasnt that I felt love, it was that I felt like I had become love, where again I can honestly say I have no idea what it is that he is talking about. Later Helen Mirren consoles the dying Michael Peña: Nothing really dies if you look at it right. I think a lot of people would be offended if you tried to tell them that the death of a loved one is merely a matter of them changing their point-of-view and presto Oh your father/mother/husband/wife is not really dead at all but is still alive. By the time the film arrives at the scene where [PLOT SPOILERS] Will Smith realises that grief counsellor Naomie Harris is really his wife but he has been wandering around in some bizarre fugue state and has not recognised her, or the ambiguously fantastic ending where the actors disappear and you realise that maybe they were the real Death, Time and Love, the film is well on its way to one of the most ridiculous screenplays of all time.
The thing about Collateral Beauty is that, aside from a moronic script, it is actually a well-made film. Will has managed to get a very impressive cast list to sign on, all of whom acquit themselves perfectly well in their respective roles. And they seem to be working hard to make a ridiculous premise seem convincing. It is just that as soon as Edward Norton opens his mouth to explain the scheme to everyone, the films credibility collapses like a house of cards.