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Review: Danny Collins

Danny Collins
03.18.2015
7 10

PLOT: After years of playing music he doesn’t want to play, and performing the same old songs, superstar Danny Collins discovers something to make him view his career differently. When his best friend/manager gives him a letter from John Lennon written years before that he never received, it inspires him to make a few changes in his empty life.

REVIEW: DANNY COLLINS is a wonderfully sweet premise. What if somebody you had the utmost respect for could have said a few words to you and changed the way you lived your entire life. It’s a genuinely good idea, inspired by a true story. And while much of Al Pacino’s work as of late may not be terribly inspired, this little work of cinema is a nice change of pace for the actor. It is a lighthearted, and yes at times sappy, look at somebody who attempts to make things better for the ones he left behind. And since this tale is based slightly on singer songwriter Steve Tilston who had received a very similar letter from John Lennon - one that he also did not get until many years after it was sent - there is some real heart in this fable.

When we first met Danny Collins, he is a young musician (played by Davide Donatello) at a meeting with a record executive. The exec loves  the sound - the song is “Mary” performed by Ryan Adams who also did the music for the film - but it seems as though they have an image they want more than an artist. Years later, Collins (Pacino) has become a glorified lounge act with a bunch of hits that mean little to him. All that changes for Collins on his birthday however, when his friend/manager Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) presents him a letter addressed to him from John Lennon himself, one that never made it to Collins. In the letter, the legendary John Lennon urges Danny to stay true to his music no matter how successful. It even leaves a number for him to call - unfortunately he can’t turn back time.

For Collins, the letter is a wake up call that leads him to exploring his drug fueled past, and unsatisfying and empty success. He soon re-enters the lives of a son he never knew, Tom Donnelly (Bobby Cannavale), his wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner) and their young daughter. Along the way Danny develops a relationship with a hotel manager named Mary Sinclair (a scene-stealing Annette Bening) who attempts to convince the singer that he needs to start a new life. While much of this is fairly predictable and more than a little sentimental, this is a surprisingly spirited tale of redemption. It also gives Al Pacino a chance to give a grounded and likable performance.

In his directorial debut, writer Dan Fogelman (TANGLED, CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE) seems to relish pulling on heartstrings. One character may be facing death, Collins son’s young daughter has ADHD and Collins himself is struggling to find what truly makes him happy. Yet for the most part, Fogelman is able to string it all together in a relatively successful way. Sure the soapy nature of this family is a bit too much, but it doesn’t fully distract from what the filmmaker is trying to accomplish. Ultimately I felt for the characters, and I was invested in whether or not Danny Collins could expand his career beyond his geriatric fan base.

The best aspect of the film is the music. Both Ryan Adams and Theodore Shapiro deliver a sweet sounding score, as well as a couple of nice tracks. However, as talented an actor Al Pacino may be, his singing leaves a little to be desired. But the consistent and simple piano based score adds a terrific touch to this music-centric feature film. It would have been better to hear more of Adams’ vocals as opposed to Pacino’s throaty rendition of the songs. Yet it was fun to watch Pacino perform these tunes with wild abandonment even if the characters singing voice really seemed to change throughout his career, and not for the better.

Ultimately DANNY COLLINS is a sweet film with an engaging performance from Al Pacino. And while both Garner and Cannavale are very good, some of the brightest spots include Bening and her employees. Josh Peck and Melissa Benoist are a real treat as the starstruck hotel staff. Christopher Plummer is especially impressive here, and the banter between he and Pacino is delightful. It may be a whole lot of sap, yet with great music and engaging performances, this is a pretty hummable tune. And if you are a John Lennon fan, you can’t help but love it as the soundtrack is virtually a Lennon greatest hits. If you are a Pacino fan, and you want to see him do something a little different, DANNY COLLINS is worth checking out.

Source: JoBlo.com

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