Do Movie Critics Read Their Own Reviews?

Collateral Beauty Theatrical Release Poster

Photo:  Theatrical Release Poster

Having lived through the collateral damage that follows the death of a loved one, and discovering the collateral beauty in the aftermath, my family left the theater Tuesday shaking our heads and wondering if the critics ever read their own reviews or if they are just so shallow they don't understand the more symbolic aspects of the movie? Or is it perhaps possible they just didn't get it, having never experienced loss at the same level we have?

Enter the movie "Collateral Beauty" and spoiler alert if you think you might want to watch it don't read my comments below because I give it away. However, contrary to what the critics say, I would recommend seeing this movie.

January 3 is a significant day at our house. It is the day our daughter, my sons' sister, Kelli, passed away. She was 11 when she died. This year she would have been 17. It has become tradition on this day for all of us to stop the busyness of life and reflect on the collateral beauty Kelligar influenced in our lives. We start this examination of her beauty at the cemetery, which we call Kelli's Park in her honor, with coffee, donuts, fond stories and memories. We follow it up with a movie we think she would have liked and end the day with her favorite dinner followed by games and more movies.

So this year we opted for a movie with a name that clicked with us on multiple levels - Collateral Beauty. We, my family and I, feel we are experts in collateral damage and the collateral beauty that accompanies grief. And yes, beauty does follow death if we allow for it to unfold.

Every one of us are also analyzers. A movie watched at home may take twice as long to get through because we stop it so damned often to discuss what's going on. Conversation about the plot line, the twists and turns the movie takes, even the actors' performances get called on the carpet. Unable to do that at a theater, our discussion began on the drive home where one thing that came up was how poorly the movie had been reviewed. We looked at the critics' reviews listed in Rotten Tomatoes and with this we were stunned. The public gave it low 69% whereas the critics gave it a whopping 12% rating. We gave it much stronger marks with the exception that the final scene could have been written better.

In a nutshell, a father (played by Will Smith) retreats from life after the death of his young daughter, and questions the universe by writing to Love, Time and Death. And unexpectedly Love, Time and Death respond to him, helping him to see how all things are connected. While trying to get through the devastation of loss, he slowly begins to the see the beauty in life or rather the beauty that was part of the life lived.

So let's get right into a few of the critical reviews and our responses to their reviews.

Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic says "It's transparently cynical, with no apparent endgame in mind other than simple profit. That it's able to waste such a fleet of capable actors and such elegant cinematography in the process is its main achievement."

The Neal review of Sophie Gilbert's review: While we assume the endgame for all movie makers is simple profit, we disagree that the cynical feel of the movie relates to the endgames she speaks of. To us, the endgame spoke of the hollowness of life after death. Following the death of Kelli, life seemed a cynical representation, maybe even a bastardization. Death seemed overwhelming, life seemed a joke. We're still scratching our heads on the elegant cinematography bit. The movie took place in dreary, cold New York for goodness sake!

Mara Reinstein, Us Weekly says "Somewhere in a forest, a maple tree wants all its sap back."

The Neal review of Mara Reinstein's review: I guess all of us are saps. We related on a very real emotional level. We all cried. Does this woman have a heart or has she just never lost anyone other than her cat? We thought the movie was sad but uplifting, not sappy.

Emily Yoshida, New York Magazine/Vulture says "The cast feels checked out: Winslet and Norton, two attractive and charismatic performers, have never looked more painted and tired."

The Neal review of Emily Yoshida's review: We all laughed at this one and the statement that they looked painted and tired - checked out. Ah we all looked painted and tired and we were checked out for a long time. For ages sleep patterns were messed up, quality sleep didn't happen, we didn't eat well or exercise and I drank too much alcohol. In fact, I was checked out for a solid year. My face resembled Will's. My family's comments about Emily were kinder than mine; I think she's an idiot and shouldn't quit her day job! These actors were playing the definition of collateral damage.

Sarah Griffin, Film Ireland Magazine says "A disappointing movie, overall, that lacks any self-awareness, Collateral Beauty has no real heart in its shallow depths."

The Neal review of Sarah Griffin's review: Did she even watch the movie? Was it opposite day at her work? To say the movie lacked any self-awareness and was without a real heart is in our opinion completely wrong. It was a story of a man suffering with a broken heart who walks the line between reality and non-reality (or altered state of self) and his journey to find a heightened sense of self-awareness allowing him to see the collateral beauty gained from the life and death of his beloved daughter. Again, has Sarah never lost a person close to her? "Shallow depths" - this is not a movie that pulls the main character out of the pool of despair that is drowning him. It only helps him pull his head above water and what more can we ask for?

Overall the movie is excellent though they could have probably come up with a better ending. The cast accurately reflected the absent and often numb and lifeless feelings that afflict those people profoundly affected by death. It is common to be so lost in emotion that what you do around others seems odd or rather makes you seem odd. Sometimes the lack of emotion (numbness) is just another way to feel grief. When I looked into Will Smith's face I saw my own face, my own tear filled eyes, my own inability to articulate what I was feeling. Perhaps the movie is just too deep for the majority of people to understand or perhaps the real truth, the movie doesn't speak to you unless you've lived it and can see your own face in the face of the actors.

Ursula Neal

Ursula is a grief coach for mothers who have lost children helping them to move from crappy to happy again. She is also a personal growth strategist helping individuals reach their goals. She may be reached at 602-400-4423 or Facebook Google+

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