Given his recent output, you would be forgiven for assuming that Danny Collins – a film about an ageing rocker who has been in a steady decline – is part of a sad farewell tour for Al Pacino.
Instead, what you will get is a well thought out drama that is light on laughs, but still gives you a few family crises to mull over. Pacino is on fine form, always on the verge of portraying a parody of himself he rescues the situation and salvages no small amount of acting pride, by instead deliberately parodying Barry Manilow!
There’s a sentence you never thought you would here, but the legendary star of Heat, The Godfather and Scarface actually reigns it in somewhat to convince as a weary musician who feels lost in a sea of false idolisation.
Collins was once a promising singer-songwriter. Early in his career he was mooted as the next big thing, yet worried about how fame and fortune would impact his work. Upon reading an interview in a magazine, John Lennon decided to pen a letter of encouragement to Danny, who is shocked and amazed to receive it. The only problem is that the letter arrives 40 years too late, with Danny already past his mid-life crisis, onto wife number who-knows-what and a career that has fizzled into nostalgic granny-pleasing concerts purely for the cash.
Desperate to make changes, and encouraged by words from beyond the grave, Danny absconds from his blue-rinse fanbase to write some new material. His agent (Christopher Plummer) tries hard to hold things together as Collins hides away in a hotel in the middle of nowhere, regularly failing to impress the manager (Annette Bening).
What Danny really wants to do is reconnect with his estranged son. After years on the road and having repeatedly let him down, Tom (Bobby Cannavale) has settled down with a wife (Jennifer Garner) and daughter of his own. The two men have had nothing to do with one another for years, and that’s just the way Tom likes it.
It’s a fairly traditional set up for a family drama, and the laughs are kept to a minimum. It’s hard to tell if this is a deliberate choice, however, as the tone of the trailer and some of the over-the-top characters we meet early on, would suggest that this was meant as more of an outright comedy.
First-time director Dan Fogelman plays it safe, perhaps too safe. The excesses of rockstars from this era should open up a world of extreme behaviour (if tales of sharks and Mars bar consumption are to be believed), but even a late Pacino meltdown feels tame.
Fogelman has worked with Pacino’s pal Robert De Niro before on Last Vegas, but its Crazy Stupid Love that is the highlight of his career so far. Arguably the best romcom of the last decade, the Ryan Gosling movie shares some DNA with this movie.
At the core of the film is the relationship between Danny and Tom. Both Pacino and Cannavale work in tandem to create a believable dynamic which has moments of disgust and hate but also the undeniable bond of father and son. It’s Cannavale’s best performance to date, and he is finally threatening to breakthrough into the mainstream having been a supporting player for long enough now.
Where the comedy flags, the leading men take over. Although Bening is given little to do, Garner manages to get a few jabs on both her co-stars and is surprisingly likeable as Tom’s partner.
Arguably the films biggest selling point, and one that you will constantly refer to when thinking back about the move, is the fact that it is all based on a true story.
There was indeed a singer, a folk star who you probably have never heard of, who received a letter years after he was supposed to from John Lennon. Danny Collins gives you the Americanised, Pacino-ised version of what happens next.