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dir David Frankel
scr Allan Loeb
prd Anthony Bregman, Bard Dorros, Kevin Scott Frakes, Allan Loeb, Michael Sugar
with Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Naomie Harris, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, Ann Dowd, Kylie Rogers, Shirley Rumierk, Alyssa Cheatham
release US 16.Dec.16, UK 26.Dec.16
16/US Warner 1h37
The grim reaper: Smith and Mirren
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
The gloop level is off the chart in this mortality drama, which reveals its intentions in the first strains of Theodore Shapiro's emotive score. The top-calibre cast just about makes it watchable, creating vivid characters with some glimpses of earthy grit amid the glossy sentimentality. But while the ideas swirling around seem to be profound, they're never actually that deep.
New York advertising guru Howard (Smith) launched his company with best pal Whit (Norton), protege Claire (Winslet) and prodigy Simon (Pena). Then his daughter died and he fell into a six-month funk. With the company sinking fast, his colleagues take action, hiring a private eye (Dowd) to verify his mental well-being. When they find out he has been writing letters to abstract concepts, they pay actors to confront him as Love (Knightley), Time (Latimore) and Death (Mirren). At the same time, he begins stalking a grief counselling group run by Madeleine (Harris).
Allan Loeb's script is painfully tidy. In addition to prodding Howard, the three actors conveniently match up with the colleague who needs their specific character. There are also hints early on that there will probably be some sort of a revelation or twist, or possibly a touch of magical realism. Or maybe all three. Yes, it's the kind of movie that's relatively easy to watch as it pretends to grapple with big themes, but ultimately feels so contrived that it means nothing.
At least the cast maintains their dignity. At the centre, Smith barely seems present, lost in a zombie-like fog with exactly one facial expression. Meanwhile, Norton, Winslet and Pena get more proactive personal dramas, and they add throwaway humour and pathos to give their characters a kick. Mirren, Knightley and Latimore are enjoyable as the cheeky, rather too-knowing actors who improvise words of wisdom a bit too effortlessly. And Harris steals the film as a radiant, tough woman who seems to be the only one who understands the issue.
Despite poking fun at life-affirming platitudes, that's what this movie is. Huge concepts are thrown around with about as much depth as a greeting card, while the moments of genuine insight seem lost amid twinkling eyes and Christmas lights. Anyone who has experienced true grief will instantly understand that real life is far, far more complicated than this. At the same time, the film does offer some consolation in the idea that we're never as alone as we think we are.
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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