Though Al Pacino has been acting professionally for nearly half a century, he’s never had the chance to play a rock star. Until now …
By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
With his theatrical scarves, open-necked silk shirts, and shaggy, slightly greasy hair, Al Pacino’s Danny Collins is a substance-saturated, AARP-ster pop star who hates his golden-oldie audience almost as much as he hates himself. He liberally self-medicates, often dipping into the cocaine that’s packed into a hefty silver cross that dangles from a chain encircling his ever-wrinkling neck. He may call to mind an amalgam of Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart, but their respective fame pales next to his. From college-age kids to septuagenarians, Danny garners instant, jaw-dropping recognition. Even Bruce Springsteen would be jealous.
While the plot of Danny Collins sounds like an old familiar tune (dissipated artist finally changes his wicked ways when he realizes that love of family/friends is worth more than fame/fortune), it’s Danny’s dazzle that intoxicates. Writer Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid Love, co-writer of Tangled and Bolt) not only delivers a screenplay that sparkles with wit and judicious doses of sentiment but, as a first-time director, he makes an impressive debut.
The movie opens in 1971, at the offices of the hip rock magazine of its day. Promising singer/songwriter Danny stumbles through an interview with a supercilious editor who predicts that Danny’s on his way to superstardom. Danny looks scared … will fame happen? And if it does, will it ruin him?
Flashing forward to 2014, a marinated, spray-tanned and be-girdled Danny makes his usual splashy entrance prior to wowing yet another packed house of adoring fans. (Note: The filmmakers shot the scene live at L.A.’s iconic Greek Theatre during an intermission in which Chicago was performing in concert. Per Pacino: “There it is. I can go home now. I sang with Chicago at the Greek Theatre.”)
Post-concert, we see a bone-tired man whose self-worth seems to be draining away in front of our eyes. But when best friend/manager Frank (a terrific Christopher Plummer) presents him with a birthday gift, it’s as if Danny has been defibrillated back to life. Somewhat based on a true story, after John Lennon had read the 1971 interview with the real Danny (a folk singer named Steve Tilston), Lennon had sent him a handwritten letter, suggesting that fame doesn’t corrupt. “Only you can do that.” He gave Danny his phone number, offering his help. The problem was that the letter took a rather circuitous route, eventually finding its way to Danny forty-three years too late. What if he’d received the letter when he was supposed to? What if he’d had that discussion with his idol John Lennon after all? Where and who would he be today?
And there it is, the issue that befuddles us all: The woulda/coulda/shoulda of the road not taken, that other fork that we might have chosen if fate had intervened. But rather than wallow in the “what if,” Danny springs into action. He packs a bag and flies to a small town in New Jersey in order to connect with Tom (Bobby Cannavale), the son he’s never met. The 30-year-old Tom is the result of a one-night-stand between Danny and a fan; when Danny first learned of the pregnancy, he offered monetary help but she refused it.
Which brings up the one major stumbling block with Danny Collins. The son’s anger is so extreme that it verges on the nonsensical. When Danny had sent checks in the past, Tom ripped them up. When Danny appeared on TV, Tom, yelling, changed the channel. When his unbelievably perfect wife (Jennifer Garner) bought tickets to a Danny Collins concert, the couple had their first and only fight in 12 years of marriage. While filmmaker Fogelman obviously had to grow the relationship between father and son, this overwrought starting point simply doesn’t read.
Back to the best: Like Danny Collins himself, it seemed that for years Pacino had been caught up in past performances. Mobsters and cops, cops and mobsters. But over the last decade or so, Pacino’s entered into a kind of renaissance. His recent gallery of impressive characters includes King Herod, Phil Spector, Jack Kevorkian, Shylock and Roy Cohn. Adding to that notable mix is Danny Collins, the performer with so much pizazz that no one notices that his talent’s gone missing for years. In short, Pacino’s Danny is a force to behold: his onstage sparkle, his genuine charm, his deprecatory wit, his bullheaded persistence — all peppered with an underlying note of sorrow – engages us throughout. It’s a pleasure to watch one of the cinema’s most well-regarded stars shine all over again.
As for the women: First with Crazy, Stupid, Love and now here, kudos to Fogelman for crafting his female characters with thoughtful dimension. Bening’s Mary is delightfully intelligent, suffering no bloated rockstar fools, and Garner’s Samantha is at once clear-eyed and lovely, the undisputed anchor for her unsteady family.
The script may have a few bumps, but between the winning ensemble, Fogelman’s effective direction, and the touching soundtrack that is all the sweeter due to the many Lennon songs threading throughout, Danny Collins gives us one hell of a show. Sorry, but per the management, there are no backstage passes available at this time.
Rating on a scale of 5 sell-outs: 4
Initial Release Date: April 10, 2015 (currently available on VOD)
Written and Directed by: Dan Fogelman
Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Plummer
Running Time: 108 minutes
Here’s the trailer: