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1/16/2017

Collateral Beauty- Movie Review

I don't know if you can call it a review nor do I pretend I can write one, but I will try to write one nonetheless. It won't be your typical review because I'm not a movie critic and because it will be very personal.
There are two reasons I feel I need to write this:
1) As soon as I left the movie theater I knew critics would be giving the movie grief. I just felt it in my gut and I was right.
2) The movie is a true gem for us, the hurting. 

Spoiler alert: This is a review for those who've watched the movie.

The movie's trailer is very deceptive, and it was the first critique the movie receives. The trailer shows us Will Smith's character, Howard, suffering from losing his child and being visited by an anthropomorphic personification of death, love, and time and engaging him in conversations. This is and is not the what really happens in the movie. Critics called this a marketing strategy to deceive moviegoers to see this movie. Why is this an issue? I don't know. Yes, it was a marketing scheme, but it in no way robbed the audience from a surprise that was gratifyingly to watch. 


It turns out the so called death, love, and time are not "angels" but actors paid by Howard's cowokers to deceive him into thinking he is truly speaking to death, love, and time. It was actually refreshing for me, because the former idea of the movie has been done before. This time around, we get to see the actors prepare for confronting Howard with the help from his coworkers, who happen to be his closest friends, and we get to see how the actors feel from the experience.

Death, played by the wonderful Helen Mirren, is delightful to watch because she is so excited about the part and Howard's reaction to their encounter. Critics attacked this for causing humor in situations that should be more sullen. This might be true sometimes, but the movie was dealing with a two-years-have-passed situation where some moving on should have happened. Dealing with death shouldn't always be dark; after all, it is a natural part of life for all. It doesn't cause any humorous reaction in Howard, but it jolts him out of his stuck state of mind.

Each of Howard's friends are respectively paired with one of the actors with one currently dying of cancer, one with her biological clock ticking, and one losing the love of his daughter after divorcing her mother for cheating. The critics called this cheesy and a far fetch. How was this far fetched? My own cancer story has deeply touched many around me even if they are not personally dealing with cancer. My writings on living each day to the fullest, being grateful for all that you give for granted, and find peace in a despairing situation strike a chord with everyone that reads them. Just because you are not dealing with a life changing situation, where everyone can see your pain, doesn't mean you are not struggling or hurting. The struggle to love well, use time wisely and not waste it, and the fear of death is universal. It was great to see these secondary characters' struggle and pain acknowledged.

The critics also jumped on the moral wagon of the wrong these so called friends where doing to Howard by making him look demented before a business board to take away from him the power of decision making. Howard's decisions have brought everyone around him to the brink of losing everything they've worked for all their life. Honestly, these coworkers should have never had to go to such lengths to take the power of decision making from him. Howard is the first to admit that and admit he was not in the right state of mind. My husband still consults me in the decision making in our house, but the power is always his. I am not in the right state of mind. Giving decision making power to someone in a bad state of mind is irresponsible and damaging to the hurting. We want to be treated like a normal person, but our helpers in this hurting time must set boundaries. This is the first recommendation psychiatrists give to help people with clinical depression or with mental health issues. 
I am not dealing with either, like Howard clearly is, but cancer has a very powerful blurring tool to reality.

Now let's tackle the big issues critics had with the movie. The movie gave no answers or any sort of enlightenment so Howard can come back to the land of the living. I actually found this refreshing. The woman that leads a group of beareved parents Howard joins says it clearly "There is no way to fix it. There is now way to make the death of child right." That is the main problem with those who try to help the hurting; they try to fix you. I have the tons of emails of people sending me links to the miracle pill or miracle fruit or miracle diet I should be taking to get cured. When I cry from the despair of the ongoing cancer treatment, surgeries that mutilate my body and take away any trace of my womanhood, and the permanent new me I need to learn to embrace, people around me jump to give me their platitudes. 
"We are all dying","You are lucky to be alive", "Don't cry, everything will be alright." "I am convinced you are already cured." "Now you can stop being afraid of death because you are in remission." And the ones that truly turn my stomach: "God gives His toughest battles to His strongest warriors" or "You are such a strong warrior." I am sorry, but I will scream in caps now. NO!!! I AM NOT STRONG OR A WARRIOR. I HAVE NO CHOICE! And the really irking "Everything happens for a reason." NO! WE WERE NOT CHOSEN AND THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS PAIN!!! These things happen because we live in a fallen, broken world and it's part of life. It just sucks, but we try to keep living. I've said this before but I'll say it again: If you don't personally know what it's like limit yourself to say: "I am very sorry", "At what time can I come to your house to do your laundry, or your cleaning, or your cooking, or do your grocery shopping, or babysit your children", and "I love you." The typical "I am here for you" and "Call me if you need anything" does nothing. Don't say it, be there. And the hurting will never call for help; we don't even know what we need.

The hurting learn to take your platitudes and reply with a "Thank you", even if you don't know you are making our cross more heavy. You see, we know you mean well, but your good intention comes from a place of selfishness. You are in pain because you se me in pain. The sooner I feel better, the sooner you'll feel better, so you want to speed that process. You don't know what it's like to cry with those who cry, to be there through the tears and pain without saying anything and really, truly being there.

Howard's second encounter with death was truly beautiful. You can see he has tried. He has tried to not fear death and see it as natural. He has researched and tried to see death from the different points of views of religions and cultures. The critics said the movie's cheesiness makes you want to vomit. The only time I regurgitated was when Howard shares the ugliest platitude he has been given that is way too common: "God saw the most beautiful rose in the garden, and He had to pick it up for Himself." It makes me want to vomit that people actually say these things, and I'm glad the movie addressed them. Death says nothing. What was there to say? Time and love do say something to him around the lines of "Stop wasting the gift of time" and "You cannot live without love." This only made Howard angrier, but it caused something in him because he once again reaches out to the grieving group. 



Where is the collateral beauty? For some, like me, it's pretty obvious. For others, it's a mystery. I can still see the collateral beauty of Kara Tippets two years after her passing. You see in the movie a parent seeing that beauty, being that beauty. You find purpose in your pain, not because that was the reason for it, but because humans are resilient and surprising. You find that beauty in the connections and the compassion you never knew how to harness before.

Death does say something, but not to Howard but to Howard's friend dying of cancer wishing, like me, to live to see his son grow up. She says "Some things never truly die." This could be a platitude if it's given by the wrong person or to the wrong person or in the wrong time. I know it in my walk with Kara. I know it in my sweet Kinsley, my four year old cancer buddy that was called home a week ago. That is the main thing Kinsley's parents have been sharing: the little ways and things that makes them know and feel Kinsley is still with them. They're never truly gone. We carry them in our hearts. 

The final critique was the movie's two plot twists. The first one is very plausible given Howard's state of mind and it added to the story, though I'll admit it was not necessary. The second one I'll admit was a far fetch and unnecessary to the story, but it didn't make the movie tank. Cancer has taught me not to sweat the small things. Maybe critics can learn a lesson in that.

From someone living in a hard place, I can vouch for this movie. It was truly beautiful. There's no fixing pain and grief. Grieving is ok. At the end, all we can do, which Howard does, is go through the stages of grief, hopefully reaching the last step. We don't find answers to life and love and why. We live.

Will Smith, Helen Mirren, and Kate Winslet where a delight to watch. Critics got this one wrong. Just check most forums.

Images from Warner Bros.


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