See what I mean? Silly? Sure. Sentimental? You bet. But nothing too out of the ordinary besides so many talented actors signing up for something so syrupy. But the premise teased in the Collateral Beauty trailer is a lie.
(Warning: Massive spoilers for Collateral Beauty follow.)
Smith's character writes letters to abstract concepts, but the three don't start visiting him in a magical-realist manner. That would make more sense. No, "Love," "Time," and "Death" are actually actors hired by Norton, Winslet, and Peña to trick Smith's character into going insane so that they can take control of their struggling ad company. Imagine if Bob Cratchit hired street performers to play the ghosts to haunt Scrooge. A little fucked up, right?
Collateral Beauty is a movie about a man being emotionally tormented and manipulated by his co-workers. The oddest part is that this story is not presented as a Charlie Kaufman-meets-Mad Men dark comedy about soulless corporate string-pullers. The film's script, by Allan Loeb (21), portrays the deception as sweet and noble, even, and director David Frankel shoots it with an angelic glow. It's like the movie is unaware of how creepy its characters are behaving. (In one of the strangest scenes, Mirren's actress even explains the term "gaslighting" to the advertising executives, and they pretty much shrug.)
But that's not all! The movie also contains a subplot featuring Moonlight's Naomie Harris as a kindhearted woman who runs a support group for parents working through the grief of losing a child. She has a few mildly flirtatious exchanges with Smith's mumbly, despairing ad executive. At one point, she explains to Smith that when her husband left her he said he wanted to meet her again when they'd forgotten their pain. You might have a sense of where this is going.