New Line Cinema’s upcoming inspirational drama “Collateral Beauty” is about finding your way back to life and love in the wake of unspeakable loss, and about those unexpected moments of hope, meaning and connection – the proverbial silver linings – that light the path through even the darkest times.
“It’s those things we sometimes take for granted or don’t notice all the time, but that might be there every day, like a sunset…or fleeting, like a child’s smile,” says director David Frankel. “There are millions of examples of collateral beauty; they’re unique, and we all have different ideas about what they could be. They’re the reason that we go on, and I think what’s really compelling about this story is that it reminds us to take notice of those brilliant fragments of life that make it worth living.”
Discovering those moments illuminated by every tragic event is an emotional and spiritual journey profoundly personal to each individual, yet something that we all share. Set amidst the warmth, energy and often bittersweet notes of the holiday season in New York City, “Collateral Beauty” tells the life-affirming story of one man’s progress through the landscape of loss and what he ultimately finds – with heart, candor, a thread of humor and the recognition that there will always be some things beyond our understanding.
“The way you see the world, the way your heart opens and the way you relate to people after a tragedy can be very beautiful,” observes screenwriter Allan Loeb, who is also one of the film’s producers. “It can be transformative.”
For Loeb, it began as the germ of a concept that grew to capture his imagination until it could not be denied. “It came together piece by piece over a long period of time as I wrote other movies and worked on other things,” he recounts. “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, and why would he do that?”
Howard (played by Will Smith) was a highly successful and dynamic advertising executive, the head of his own company, for whom those words once represented powerful marketing tools. They were great motivators. In an early scene evoking his former passion, he is seen addressing a rapt crowd with the statement: “These three things connect every single human being on Earth. We long for love. We wish we had more time. And we fear death.”
But after his six-year-old daughter succumbs to a fatal illness, casting Howard emotionally adrift, these concepts take on a larger meaning. Increasingly withdrawn from human contact, the only communication Howard now initiates are the angry, accusatory letters he writes to Love, Time, and Death.
“He’s struggling with big, philosophic questions and looking to the universe for answers,” Frankel says. “Like a modern-day King Lear, you might say, he’s howling at the gods.”
Eventually, Howard’s fixation gives his friends an idea to possibly break him out of his endless malaise by somehow allowing him to confront these very concepts. They’ve tried every other means of help from traditional grief counseling to shamanistic rituals, offered comfort and patience, and nothing has worked.
Howard’s friends are also his closest colleagues and long-time business partners: Whit, played by Edward Norton, Claire, played by Kate Winslet, and Simon, played by Michael Peña. Though their concern for him is genuine, their plan has a practical side, too, as Howard’s disconnection from the daily functions has brought the company to the brink of insolvency and they must quickly affect a sale to save it.
Thus one day, while at his usual bench in the dog park, Howard is approached by a self-assured woman smartly dressed in vivid blue, who sits beside him. She holds a letter he recently posted to Death. Taking him completely off-guard, she introduces herself as the recipient of that letter. When Howard recoils, she reminds him that people are forever seeking answers from the universe but not many are granted a direct response. And so it begins…
Opening across the Philippines on January 8, 2017, Collateral Beauty is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment company.