Al Pacino is on a roll. At least when it comes to playing entertainers who no longer feel relevant or are going through the motions. He did that in last year’s The Humbling and now, instead of being an actor, Pacino is a washed out singer whose career is much like Hugh Grant is in Music and Lyrics, replaying old songs for the same, yet older, fans. Danny Collins pits Pacino not only against himself, but against his past and time in a story about second chances.
Danny Collins (Pacino) has had a good and long career. After decades in the music business, he’s washed out, his personal life has taken a hit, and his main source of income is coming from his latest tour, where he’s playing the same songs which made him famous. After his manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) brings him a 40-year-old letter written to him by John Lennon at the start of his career, Collins finds himself jump starting his life again.
Starting with moving to the east coast for awhile, he checks into a local hotel, where he meets the direct and uninterested in his charming ways hotel manager Maria (Annette Bening) and her staff. Danny also moves to get away from his former life, cuts his tour short, starts writing new songs again, and most importantly, tries to make amends with his son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) and his family (Jennifer Garner, Giselle Eisenberg), whom he’s neglected. Because of the letter, Danny finds himself changing and realizes that this revitalization was a long time coming.
Danny Collins is, in many ways, a nostalgic piece of storytelling. Pacino’s character is always thinking about what he could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done had he gotten that letter from John Lennon 40 years earlier. What would he have done differently? Would he have been more successful? But, ultimately, the real question is: Would it really have made much of a difference? After all, the spark that happens with Danny, while 40 years too late, is still a spark to get his life out of the ditch that he’s crashed it into and turn things around before it’s too late. And Pacino plays with this side of Danny’s vulnerability very well. Pacino’s character is a mess and occasionally a jerk, but he tries, and at the end of it all, that’s the only thing that matters to himself and to his family and new-found friends.
First-time director and veteran screenwriter Dan Fogelman uses his capabilities to make the film tug at the heartstrings, but maintains a certain degree of aloofness. This is because Danny Collins himself isn’t a character who you can easily get comfortable with. It takes effort and a bit of emotional convincing before you completely warm up to the character and really feel bad for him. Many of the heart-tugging moments mentioned earlier are due to the other supporting characters and their eventual melting of the partial ice cap that is Collins.
Annette Bening is firm, yet believably frustrated at Danny’s antics. Bobby Cannavale is just the right amount of angst and soft-hearted family man that can’t seem to completely drive Danny out of his life now that he’s firmly rooted himself in it. Jennifer Garner is once again the emotionally intelligent and supporting wife, and though I’d like to see her do more, this role is quiet and draws from her strength overall. Christopher Plummer is the slightly off-kilter and comedic relief as Danny’s manager, and he and Pacino look like they are having a grand old time together.
Dan Fogelman’s first time out as director isn’t too shabby considering the material he wrote for himself to direct. He plays out the drama and angst to a certain degree, and while he doesn’t allow the film to drown in Danny’s downward spiral of a life, there isn’t anything revelatory about it either. It serves well enough as a good role for Pacino to play as well as a heartfelt and feel-good-after-all-the-angst kind of movie.