By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Al Pacino as a rock star? Ehhh, why not? He’s played everything else, it seems.
In the heart-on-its-sleeve comedy-drama, Danny Collins, the eight-time Oscar nominee and one-time Oscar winner (for 1992’s Scent of a Woman) stars as the narcissistic title character — an aging, rich, and famous singer-songwriter seeking redemption as a family man.
Danny used to write and sing his own songs. At this stage of the game, he sings other performers’ hits.
Then his best friend and manager, Frank Grubman, played by the invaluable Christopher Plummer, turns up with a birthday gift: a letter written 40 years earlier to Danny by John Lennon of the Beatles, whom Danny worshipped, that was sold to a collector and never delivered.
In that letter, Lennon advised Collins not to let fame and fortune suffocate his natural talent.
Knowing now that that is sensible advice, Collins wonders what his life might have been like if that letter had indeed reached him at the time it was sent, and if he had taken Lennon up on his invitation to give him a call so they could talk about music.
So, he cancels the tour he’s already on; leaves his young, gold-digging fiancée behind; abandons his hedonistic lifestyle; and instead heads for suburban New Jersey to regain his authenticity by reconnecting with his family, cease being an absentee father and grandfather for a stretch, and maybe get back to his musical roots as well, perhaps even write a song, something he hasn’t attempted in years.
But at this point, can this guy actually change?
He stays at a hotel run by Mary Sinclair, played by Annette Bening, to whom Danny is immediately drawn. Where she is concerned, and despite his fame, it’s the “vice versa” part that’s in question.
Bobby Cannavale plays Tom, Danny’s resentful and estranged son, the product of a one-night stand, whom Danny has never even met. He’s a struggling building contractor and is married to the pregnant Samantha (played by Jennifer Garner), with whom he has a seven-year-old daughter named Hope (played by Giselle Eisenberg), who has Attention-Deficity Hyperactivity Disorder.
The debuting director is screenwriter Dan Fogelman, who has written the scripts for Crazy, Stupid, Love; The Guilt Trip; and Last Vegas. He based his screenplay on a true story involving Lennon and a young musician, which is why the opening epigraph reads, “kind of based on a true story a little bit.”
Fogelman knows he’s telling a story we’ve seen and heard before. But he lets splendid execution carry the day, and it does.
In Pacino, caught between a rock star and a hard place, the director can lean on an actor so charismatic, he’s fun to watch even when he’s off his game or over the top, neither of which is the case. In terms of charm, humor, and charisma, Pacino is very much on the money here.
So we’ll record 3 stars out of 4 for the dysfunctional family dramedy, Danny Collins, with Pacino at his relaxed best in a modest but moving and memorable movie.
More Bill Wine Movie Reviews