Director : Dan Fogelman
Screenplay : Dan Fogelman
Danny Collins should not work as an entertaining movie in 2015. The thought of Al Pacino playing an old soft rock star should be embarrassing. His manager should have said no, those that he loves and trusts should have said 'you play Mafia bosses, policemen, football coaches and maybe even a short order cook, but you cannot under any circumstances destroy your legacy by playing the fictional Danny Collins'. But he said yes and the result was really quite wonderful.
So while the premise sounds horrific, the direction, script and performances are all great and the ghost of John Lennon contributes the fuel to Danny's existential crisis and a great soundtrack.
The movie opens on Danny backstage before a big show. With the bronzer, spray on hair colour and big slugs of coke and whisky, everything is overblown and ridiculous. It's only when we take on Danny's point of view as he works his way towards the stage, that we release that it's all armour, protecting him against the stares and silent whispers from the people backstage and the crowd that awaits. He takes a breath and steps through the curtain and we see the lights and crowd as he does. It's frightening, but Danny has his stock moves and stock songs to satiate the rabid crowd. He gives them what they want and they are ecstatic, but for him it's the repitious purgatory of the long-time performer and there is no way out. Even suicide seems like too much of a bother.
We shouldn't have been worried, Pacino commits hard to the role. He is a great actor after all who should be able to play a singer just as easily as a gangster, but we haven't seen much of that greatness lately. In his performances over the last decade he looks and sounds like Al Pacino, but he has seemed like an impersonation of himself. Maybe the Danny Collins role wasn't that much of a stretch after all.
Danny receives an early birthday gift. An undelivered letter from John Lennon addressing his concerns about art v money that a young Danny raised in a magazine article fortyish years before. The letter was a rebuke but also an invitation to call and have a chat. Danny knows that the course of his life could have been different if he'd ever received that letter. So while he can't bring John back, he can help to rectify some of his other bad choices, so he's off to New Jersey to connect to the son he doesn't know.
Free from his LA lifestyle, Danny bases himself in a local Hotel and his new life in New Jersey has him seeking new relationships and writing new songs. Annette Benning is a good match as his almost age appropriate love interest, and Bobby Cananavale and Jennifer Garner are both engaging as they hold out stoically for as long as they can against Danny's charms.
The Lennon letter is framed in glass and serves as a mirror for Danny, reminding him of the path not taken every time he slides back into his destructive behaviours. And that's what the story really is. An old addict trying to make amends to those he has damaged and the parts of himself that he has neglected. It's a path that's never smooth, but with the cast and crew of Danny Collins involved, it makes for a charming movie and it leaves you with some hope that old age doesn't preclude creativity.