Disclaimer: This review may be more recap than critical essay. The following may contain spoilers. Or maybe not. It is quite possible I misremembered key plot points. I have only seen the film once, on a small airplane screen at 35,000 feet, sleep-deprived and under the influence of any number of legal substances. Everyone’s a critic. But inflight entertainment is a safe space where the options are nonthreatening and your expectations low. Skip or screen, the choice is yours.
Danny Collins (2015)
Director: Dan Fogelman
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner
Runtime: 106 minutes
My Ambien-aided/inhibited analysis:
I am a huge fan of this recent trend where traditionally dramatic actors, no strangers to critical acclaim and box office success, are leaving these gritty, serious roles behind in favor of a little fun. I’m talking about Meryl in Mamma Mia and The Devil Wears Prada. I’m talking about Bobby in The Intern and Dirty Grandpa, although the latter doesn’t look like much fun to me. And now Al Pacino can add his name to this list of his esteemed colleagues.
In Danny Collins, Pacino plays an aging rockstar. His prime in the rearview mirror of his giant tour bus, along with his musical ambitions and self-respect. A sellout still selling out stadium venues. In spite of his barely buttoned shirts exposing gaudy necklaces and fake tan, Pacino as Collins is devastatingly charming.
Early in his career, Collins was a true artist. Now, he still tours with his greatest hits, playing songs he hates for aging fans he serenades with disdain. When he discovers an undelivered letter of encouragement from John Lennon intended for his younger self, he imagines how different his life and career would have been had he received the letter some forty years before. His sliding doors moment. Understandably thrown, he cancels the remainder of his national tour and takes his bus to New Jersey where he hopes to reconnect with his music and his estranged son. He checks into a modest hotel, befriending the young staff and taking an immediate interest in the manager played by the magnetic Annette Bening.
With his manager and best friend’s (the always wonderful, sometimes villainous Christopher Plummer) blessing and Bening as his muse, Danny brings in a grand piano and gets to work reinventing himself. Despite the fancy car and shopping sprees, the Lennon letter is his most prized possessed, framed and comically displayed on the piano as a reminder of who he was and wants to be again. Feeling inspired, he writes and composes his first new song in decades. He begins to love again – Bening, his family, himself.
Bobby Cannavale as Danny’s son and Jennifer Garner, his daughter-in-law, manage to do a lot with the small roles they are given. He is defensive and stubborn, unwilling to open his heart and home to this man that abandoned him. She is protective of her husband and understands his hesitation, but warms to Danny, eventually bridging the gap between him and her husband. Together, they are warm and funny and loyal.
In Danny Collins, there are no villains, just complicated people whose lives maybe did not turn out how they expected. They try to change, to do the right thing, but change is hard and often it is too easy to fall back into familiar rhythms. Danny wants to write songs that reflect who he is as an artist and man and father. But he is vain, insecure, and in desperate need of his fans’ adoration. His identity enmeshed with this public persona. Will they still love him when he reveals his true self? In the end, he is not strong enough to find out.
I was pleasantly surprised by this film. It is heartwarming in all the ways you would expect. There is a cancer subplot that is a little deliberate and heavy-handed. But, after seeing Danny and his son finally make some headway in their reconciliation, the final scene feels earned, if not a bit telegraphed.