I told my girlfriend after we saw a commercial for this a month ago, “This looks awful, but I’ll probably still cry watching it.”
And I was right on both counts.
Howard (Will Smith) is the head of a big advertising firm, who starts the movie giving motivational type speeches to his employees. We jump to three years later when he’s sitting on the floor of his unfurnished apartment by himself. He doesn’t talk to anybody, but he writes three letters. One of them is to Death, one to Love, and one to Time. Since they had no address written on them, the letter carrier stamped “return to sender” and sent them back (okay, I made that last part up). What happens will surprise the audience, but it’s no spoiler (I’ll keep all spoilers out). Howard’s partners, played by the talented Michael Pena, Edward Norton, and Kate Winslet, decide they’ll take these letters and send some unemployed actors to play “Time,” “Death,” and “Love.” That might seem a bit cruel, but it’s their form of an intervention. It will also save the employees from losing their jobs during a merger.
The “actors” are a bit of fun. Well, not Keira Knightley. Her character never really works as the woman hired to play Love.
Helen Mirren is terrific as Death. It’s also fun to hear her name-check all movie/acting references: Stella Adler, Grotowski, Noel Coward, Chekhov, and the movie Gaslight.
My favorite character is the one most won’t know — Jacob Latimore (The Maze Runner). He plays “Time” and it’s nice that he’s this hip, urban character…but not some obnoxious one. He gives the tough love speeches. In one of those, he talks about his father being an alcoholic and his mother being “bat-s**t crazy, and living under a bridge.” It’s very touching and thoughtful, and you wish more of the script would’ve been written that well. It was penned by Allan Loeb, who is no Lisa Loeb.
The letters Howard writes aren’t very poetic. The advice he’s given not especially interesting. And a lot of it was surprisingly predictable and I thought of many ways this could’ve been written better. Instead, it comes off as trite, manipulative, and…heck, even the scene where the name of the movie is revealed will make you roll your eyes and scratch your head, both at once.
Here’s another example of poor writing. We find out Norton is playing a divorced father, because his 8-year-old daughter shows up in front of his high rise to tell him he’s an a-hole for cheating on the mother and being such a “philanthropist” (a joke that’s been used before). I’m not sure why he didn’t go all Alec Baldwin on her, and tell her you shouldn’t talk to your dad that way. I’m also not sure why the mom isn’t there, or why he’s not picking up the phone, and yelling at his ex for using the daughter as a pawn against him.
It is hard to ever have sympathy for Norton, not just because we know he cheated on his wife, but he seems to look at the casting calls the ad agency does, for women he can seduce.
You have more sympathy for Pena, since he’s coughing a lot. Perhaps he has an illness we’ll find out about. Oh hell, I’m going to spoil it. Of course he does! This movie wants you to cry any way they can, and they don’t care if it’s the least bit organic in how they get there.
Oh, and Winslet plays a character that put her career ahead of starting a family, and she keeps checking online for sperm donors. Will we see a baby bump by the end of the film?
I thought the movie would pick up, when Howard finally picks himself up, and attends a support group. It’s led by Naomie Harris (who those of us in the Critics’ Choice Awards nominated for best supporting actress in Moonlight). Smith and Harris have a bit of chemistry, but at this point, you stopped caring about him. If his child died two years earlier, and he’s grieving so much that he can’t talk to his friends, or co-workers…even when the business could be lost…he needs to get help. And, he’s acting like a suicidal maniac when he rides his bike into oncoming traffic (and also leads me to wonder why, if they need film evidence that he’s crazy, why they don’t just shoot that; he goes on that ride nightly).
In Manchester by the Sea, they made us care about a grieving character. In this, it’s never pulled off. This is more like Love Reign O’er Me meets Scrooge.
There are some beautiful shots of the skyscrapers at night, and all the Christmas lights were festive.
Director David Frankel gave us the sad Marley and Me, and the horrible Hope Springs. He got praise for The Devil Wears Prada. This film, unfortunately, is a strikeout. It was a Collatoral Clap Trap.
It also needed a bit more humor, and sad scenarios to feel more organic.
1 star out of 5.