DANNY COLLINS (USA/15A/106mins)
Directed by Dan Fogelman. Starring Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale.
THE PLOT: Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is an ageing rocker who still performs, but has never managed to give up the hard partying life of a rockstar. All of this changes when his manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) gives him a latter written by John Lennon, a letter written to Danny at the start of his career, a letter that never got to him until now. Danny dumps his cheating girlfriend and heads to pastures new… New Jersey.
THE VERDICT: Inspired by the true story of English musician Steve Tilston – who did receive a letter from John Lennon 40 years too late – DANNY COLLINS is a film that feels a little familiar, like maybe we have been down this road before. The thing that makes the film warm and entertaining, however, is the feeling that the entire cast, Pacino included, actually had a lot of fun making this charming little film.
Directed by Dan Fogleman, who as a writer most recently brought us LAST VEGAS (and the less said about that the better), this is the directorial debut for the veteran screenwriter. As mentioned, DANNY COLLINS is not exactly a film that feels fresh, new or innovative, but it is a film that is filled with heart and warmth, with strong performances from Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, Bobby Canavale and Jennifer Garner filling the film with charm and a couple of laughs.
Fogleman’s screenplay jumps off from a true story and takes it in a new direction. There are times, especially in the scenes concerning Danny’s family, where everything feels a little trite and familiar, but these soon balance out with some lovely chemistry between the cast, and some fun scenes between Pacino and Bening. As the film moves on, it is clear that this is a story about relationships, and not one about the regrets we may have in life, and Fogleman’s dialogue gets better and more honest as the film moves along.
As director, Fogleman sometimes lays the cringiness on a little too thick, but redeems himself when it comes to characters interacting on a more intimate level. There are a couple of montages in there that don’t always work – and don’t always reflect the passage of time – but Fogleman has coaxed a suave performance from Pacino, a giggly understated one from Bening and a strong and charming one from Garner. It is Cannavale that really shines, however, making Tom a complex, rounded and conflicted character; one who is the perfect foil for the vain and sheltered Danny.
In all, it may feel like we are heading down a well-worn path with DANNY COLLINS, but Dan Fogleman’s directorial debut has a few surprises up its sleeve, and a whole lot of warmth and charm. The central four shine, but none more so than Bobby Canavale, who is on the best from he has been for years.
RATING: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Danny Collins
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0Familiar but charming
  • emerb

    Written and directed by Dan Fogelman (“Crazy Stupid Love” and “Tangled”), “Danny Collins” is a heartfelt and agreeable movie about an aging rock icon who sets about discovering the meaning of life. The film is loosely based on fact, mirroring a real letter of encouragement Lennon sent to British musician Steve Tilston in 1971 which never reached him until 2005.

    The story begins when Danny (Al Pacino) receives an undelivered, handwritten 1971 fan letter from John Lennon for his birthday from his manager and best friend Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer). In the letter, the former Beatle invited Danny to discuss career choices and advised him to remain true to himself and his music while also warning him about the dangers of fame. The young Danny Collins was a Dylan-esque singer-songwriter who worshipped John Lennon and when he gets that letter, it changes him. The letter shakes him up
    – it is a real game changer. He realises that things need to change – he needs to “fix” himself. He may be a huge commercial success, recognised by his adoring fans everywhere he goes but what sort of a life is it and has it any meaning for him? From his fake tan to his dyed hair to his glittering outfits to his drinking and drug taking to having to sing the same song over and over, Danny is trapped in an empty, shallow existence. He sinks into depression and many sleepless nights, he abandons his big-money tour, breaks off his engagement to a cheating younger woman and vows to write the kind of music he thinks Lennon would have encouraged. He flies to New Jersey in his private plane, checks into a Hilton hotel where he crams a grand piano into his room with the intention of writing some new material. He then seeks out the home of Tom Donnelly (Bobby Cannavale), the son Danny had after a one-night stand with a groupie, now deceased. Tom is a decent suburban family man who lives with his wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner), and their ADHD-afflicted daughter, Hope (Giselle Eisenberg) but Tom wants nothing to do with him. Danny has a very hard time wooing him but can this arrogant, self-important man be forgiven and will there be a reconciliation in the end?

    The rest of the film is watching Danny realise how hard it will be to keep living right — and that maybe he doesn’t have the moral clout to manage it. Danny’s resolutions to quit his drug-fuelled lifestyle, cut back on alcohol, win back the love of his son and his family, write great new material, and live a simple life are
    enormous challenges for him and we have doubts as to how far he will actually go towards achieving his goals. Fogelman intersperses the story with many
    subplots along the way including a difficult pregnancy, cancer, ADHD, a recovering alcoholic, a budding romance, post-divorce blues and each narrative
    is interesting because the performances are so good.

    The superb cast is anchored by a star lead performance from Al Pacino who clearly had a lot of fun with the role – he is the life and soul of the party. Watching his delusionally vain rock- icon reconnect with the family he’s neglected for decades while incessantly flirting with hotel manager Mary Sinclair (Annette Bening) and attempting to write impressive new music is entertaining and charming. He is in his element turning on the charm to the fans who feel privileged to meet him and nails it in the many scenes in which valets, hotel clerks and customers in the bar realise who he is. His relationship with Mary is lively and spirited – they really click and while we may laugh at Danny’s delusions and excesses, we can also see that on another level this is a deeper story. It is that of an addict inching towards recovery while constant sliding back again. Cannavale is also very moving here, playing a troubled and understandably bitter but very sensitive and kind family man. His scenes with Pacino are fascinating to watch. Jennifer Garner sparkles as Tom’s pregnant wife, who nudges Tom into at least talking with Danny. Bening provides a nice element of romantic comedy relief as the warm but wary lady who seems utterly smitten, even as she turns down his daily invitations for dinner. Melissa Benoist is sweetly effective as a college student working the front desk for the hotel.

    “Danny Collins” is not the most surprising, inspiring film you will see this year but it is a very effective and refreshing redemption tale which gives us a glimpse into stardom on the ultimate level. Here we have a man who has thought of nothing but fame and riches and pleasure but who is forced to contemplate his life and his image and try to become a better man and artist. With a top notch cast, sharp dialogue and an engaging story, you are sure to love “Danny Collins” – a feel good movie which I thoroughly enjoyed.

  • filmbuff2011

    Danny Collins is a rather ordinary title for a film featuring arguably the best actor of his generation – Al Pacino. It proves to live up to its title in being average, but still likeable. Danny (Pacino) is an ageing, Tom Jones-style singer who has still got it. His long-term manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) still believes in him and tolerates his excesses, such as his much younger trophy wife who doesn’t really love him. Frank delivers up a surprise to Danny though in the form of a letter that John Lennon wrote to Danny some 40 years earlier, but it never made its way to him. Inspired by the encouraging words of Lennon, Danny sets off on a road tour but actually doesn’t get very far. He ends up in a Hilton hotel run by the stand-offish but sparky Mary (Annette Bening), who keeps politely swatting away his offers of dinner dates. There’s another reason Danny is staying in that hotel. He’s trying to re-connect with his estranged son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) and his pregnant wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner). But Tom is understandably hostile towards him, given that Danny was absent for most of his life and is only now trying to make up for it. Despite Tom’s resistance, Danny is going to try his best and make amends for what he did – or rather didn’t do… Inspired by the story of folk singer Steve Tilston, who received a letter from John Lennon 40 years late, Danny Collins is a well-meaning film with a good heart and honest intentions. Danny is a flawed character who doesn’t always make the right judgment call, but his attempts at some sort of redemption are well-played by Pacino. If it wasn’t for him, this would be TV-movie of the week stuff. Writer-director Dan Fogelman’s script hits some bum notes at times, such as later scenes between Danny and Mary which feel contrived and tacked on. The less said about Garner’s underwritten wife the better. But there’s some good work going on between Pacino and Cannavale, with just the right amount of anger and sincerity between the two of them to make the journey feel worth it. Danny Collins features the rare sight of Pacino singing and he doesn’t make a fool of himself, a la Pierce Brosnan. That’s worth the price of admission alone. It may be a flawed, not particularly impressive film, but there’s enough charm, humour and warmth here to make it a cosy recommendation. ***