Danny Collins (2015)

Danny Collins (2015)
  • Time: 106 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Dan Fogelman
  • Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer


Inspired by a true story, Al Pacino stars as aging 1970s rocker Danny Collins, who can’t give up his hard-living ways. But when his manager (Christopher Plummer) uncovers a 40 year-old undelivered letter written to him by John Lennon, he decides to change course and embarks on a heartfelt journey to rediscover his family, find true love and begin a second act.


  • It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that moviegoers love Al Pacino. He’s an appealing actor. He’s a likable actor. Heck, he’s simply a legend. He is however, heavily miscast playing an aging rocker in 2015’s Danny Collins (the film I’m about to review). This is an uneven performance complete with a veritable level of patchiness. Al as demonstrated in “Collins”, is not much of a singer. He also looks a little counterfeit playing the piano. At a running time of 106 minutes, you sense that Serpico is only in these proceedings for total name recognition. He ventures over to his softer side like he did in 2002’s Simone but you kinda wish he’d just stick to being gangster. There are other actors more suitable to take his place here.

    Written and directed by Dan Fogelman (his first stint behind the camera) and inspired by the life of known, folk singer Steve Tilston (I’m thinking what’s on screen is somewhat fictional since the opening titles say “this is kind of a true story, sort of”), Danny Collins is the type of film that mildly begins while not having an actual ending. The screenplay is from the land of vapid. Fogelman (as mentioned in the last sentence) penned The Guilt Trip which I reviewed two years ago. In that write up, I talked about how his script was achingly thin and lacked bite. Ditto here for “Collins”. This is 2015’s Almost Famous as in almost, not quite. It’s also Jerry Maguire minus the gerrymandering, a real disappointment to say the least.

    The story commences at L.A.’s Greek Theatre. Danny Collins (played by Al “I wear the same outfits in the movies as I do in the public eye” Pacino) is set to go on and entertain a sold out show. He’s a washed up singer, a guy who hasn’t had a hit song in over forty years. But there he is, getting thousands of fans to spew the words to his signature hook, “Hey, Baby Doll” (just think a poor man’s version of a Neil Diamond ditty). Now Danny seems to have a lot of money. He should be happy but he’s not. He’s got fancy cars, a mansion, a private jet, and plenty of senior citizens who’ll pay to watch his tired concerts. He also drinks like a fish, does cocaine out of a cross (around his neck), and has a young fiance who cheats on him. Anyway, he decides that his life now needs a little dose of redemption. His inspiration: A letter written to him over four decades ago. The author: The late, great John Lennon. After reading said letter, Danny decides to forgo the rest of his tour and do two important things. He’s gonna try to write some brand new songs (which we the audience don’t exactly get a chance to hear) and fly to New Jersey to form a relationship with the son he never met (Tom Donnelly played by Bobby Cannavale). Throughout everything, you get to hear background music via John Lennon’s greatest hits album, The John Lennon Collection. Lennon’s songs are sledgehammered to remind you of Danny’s promise to change his life and go straight. They seem however, to mask the fact that his written words to Danny aren’t mentioned enough and their purpose is sort of ill-defined. This gives “Collins” an inconsistent tone as a funny/despairing fodder.

    Erraticness and unhealthy, rock star vices aside, I mentioned in the first paragraph that Pacino is out of place in the role of a second rate Frankie Valli. He’s not the only one. Almost every co-star here is the victim of some sort of miscasting mishap. A fine actor in his own right, I really didn’t buy Christopher Plummer as Frank Grubman (Danny’s 85 year-old manager, uh huh). I also couldn’t picture Jennifer Garner as a lower class housewife in Samantha Donnelly (Pacino’s estranged son’s spouse). Finally, I found Annette Bening to be underdeveloped and unnecessary playing Pacino’s character’s no-touch love interest. They have okay chemistry but I was kinda hoping their tryst wasn’t such a nondescript tease. Honestly, the only actor that didn’t strike me as being miscast was Bobby Cannavale. That’s probably because he pretty much looked like he could be related to Pacino.

    As for the screenplay which doesn’t do the actors/actresses justice to begin with, I thought it was airy and lacking in research when it came to the intricacies of rock ‘n’ roll. Dan Fogelman would rather give his players cringe-inducing dialogue to occupy (almost every character interaction has this) than delve into the raucousness of musical stenography and has-been hedonism. Touting itself as an uneven mix of comedy and drama, Danny Collins provides us with zingers at the end of each scene that flop in the wind.

    All in all, this is a film with dangling loose ends, a sort of VH1’s Where Are They Now? without a true emotional tug. It tries to succeed with some good intentions and I like the fact that (spoiler alert) it takes the viewer down a darker pathway via the notion of Pacino’s character’s son being stricken with a blood disease. However, the bulk of it is ultimately featherweight material at best. In the future, I’m looking forward to something better (musically) like The Who documentary, Lambert & Stamp. Nevertheless, here’s my overall rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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  • Some things cannot be unseen. Take Al Pacino in the opening moments of Danny Collins. Coked and boozed up, skin bronzed, hair shellaced, gut girdled, the thrice-divorced, world-famous soft rock icon Danny Collins takes the stage to perform “Hey, Baby Doll,” the song that secured his decades-long fame and wealth. Pacino has been a godfather, a merchant, a king, and a devil but an aging rock star? Pacino singing “Hey, Baby Doll” has to be seen to be believed, and even then…it’s all levels of cringe.

    One of the many pleasures of Danny Collins lies in how Pacino overcomes that cornball moment to win us over with a flamboyant and charming portrayal. One wants to resist, but resistance is futile. One can only hold up one’s hands in surrender. Writer-director Dan Fogelman often comes close to undermining his actors and his own story by being too obvious with the details (particularly the soundtrack), but this is a film that succeeds precisely because it is formulaic, predictable, and sentimental with a capital S.

    “Kind of based on a true story a little bit,” the film takes inspiration from British folk singer Steve Tilston who, in 2005, came upon a letter written to him by John Lennon, who was responding to an interview given by the then-younger Tilston who worried that commercial success would compromise his artistry. Danny Collins receives such a letter, which is gifted to him by his longtime friend and manager Frank (Christopher Plummer). Already in a funk about the absurdity of being affianced to a woman young enough to be his granddaughter and feeling like “a court jester with a microphone,” Danny wonders what would have happened if he had received Lennon’s letter all those years ago. Would he have let the failure of his first album scare him into becoming a commercial sellout? Would he have kept on writing his own material? Would he have been a better man? Frank thinks Danny is just having a breakdown, but Danny knows he needs to make changes in his life. “I’m broken,” Danny states, “there’s nothing left to break.”

    After Danny cancels his personal and professional engagements, he holes himself up in a suburban New Jersey Hilton and sets himself several goals to achieve: lay off the drugs and booze, write a new song, woo the witty but wary hotel manager Mary (Annette Bening), and, most importantly, reconnect with long estranged son Tom (Bobby Cannavale). Time is spent with Tom’s heavily pregnant wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner), who empathises with Danny’s attempt at reconciliation but makes it clear in no uncertain terms that it was Danny and Danny alone who created the situation he now has to repair. As lovely as Garner is in that scene, it is wholly unnecessary because the minute Cannavale walks in, the look in his eyes tells you everything you need to know about the hurt, bitterness, and resentment that helped shape Tom into a decent and upstanding family man. “I’ve spent my entire life trying to become the man you aren’t. I am exhausted,” he tells Danny and Cannavale makes that exhaustion palpable. Cannavale’s entrance is one of his moments in the film, a moment he immediately surpasses when Tom takes his hyperactive young daughter into his arms and begins to calm her down. Cannavale is terrific, compartmentalising his love for his daughter and hatred for his father.

    Danny Collins has its moments of mawkishness (that ending) and narrative lapses (Danny’s back-to-basics show), but they are superseded by moments of genuine heart and feeling. The cast is top-notch. Bening brings back the minxish radiance that she brought to the screen when she appeared in Postcards From the Edge, Valmont, and The Grifters. The great Christopher Plummer delights, most especially in his dry as ice delivery of the line, “This is my second time in New Jersey in two months. I am not happy about that.”

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  • Disclaimers are a thing of beauty. They literally warn you that things are not as you might have expected and you should re-gather your focus before continuing. Danny Collins starts off with the disclaimer, “The following is based on a true story, a little bit.” Odd that the film will start with that disclaimer but just like an uneven album, Danny Collins has some moments that will have you grove with the film and others that will just leave you in an offsetting mood.

    Al Pacino stars as aging 1970s rocker Danny Collins, who can’t give up his hard-living ways. But when his manager (Christopher Plummer) uncovers a 40 year-old undelivered letter written to him by John Lennon, he decides to change course and embarks on a heartfelt journey to rediscover his family, find true love and begin a second act.

    Al Pacino has been nominated at the 2016 Golden Globes for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for his role in Danny Collins. Personally, I currently have Pacino ranked fifth out of the five nominees in his chances in actually taking home the hardware. Not to say that Pacino does not deserve the role but he just don’t know compare to the other nominees. Don’t get me wrong, this is Pacino best performance in years and perhaps Danny Collins could be considered an indirect autobiography of Pacino himself. Like Collins, Pacino was once a subtle star on the rise but over the years, Pacino has became a talent that is known to be over-the-top attimes.

    Pacino was blessed with a great supporting cast in which chemistry is never missing in the equation. Pacino and Christopher Plummer have an unforced rapport as they bring some of the comedy as they go through memory lane together. Pacino and Annette Bening bring a pleasurable love connection to the film and Bobby Cannavale and Jennifer Garner help bring the dramatics when they aren’t being ao melodramatic.

    The soundtracked is filled with John Lennon’s songs and that is only a plus if you are a Beatles fan.

    Danny Collins is not the best movie that is nominated for a Golden Globe but it does contain a seasoned ensemble a

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