John Lennon once tried to reach out to me, too. Then, I woke up.
Danny Collins (Al Pacino) feels as if he’s been on top of the music world for as long as he can remember. He’s still on-tour, making money, throwing parties, and set to be married to a much younger woman. Despite the fact that Danny hasn’t written any new music in nearly a decade, he’s happy enough with himself and his career that he doesn’t care too much about what the nay-sayers may be spouting about. That all begins to change one day, however, when his manager (Christopher Plummer) hands him a letter written in 1971 by John Lennon, asking that Danny come visit him and Yoko Ono to make music and see what sort of chemistry they’ve got between one another. Danny now feels like his career needs a reboot, with him dropping out of his latest tour, cancelling his engagement, and going back to visit the son (Bobby Cannavale), the daughter-in-law (Jennifer Garner), and granddaughter (Giselle Eisenberg) that he never got a chance to know. However, it’s not going to be so easy for Danny to come back into their lives, especially considering that he’s been out of them for quite some time, which was all his doing in the first place.
You can tell exactly where Danny Collins is going to go right from the start. It’s so obviously calculated and written in a way that, even if you haven’t seen a single movie ever made, you’d still know what’s going to happen, when, where, and why. There’s many movies I’ve seen where there’s been hardly any surprises to be found within the plot itself, yet, by the same token, there’s little pieces of honest insight to be found that the formula can get tooled around with enough to where it doesn’t matter; sometimes, you just need a little shake-up here and there.
And that’s exactly what Dan Fogelman does here.
While Fogelman may be a little too pleased with himself and the way he’s written these characters, the way in how he keeps each and every character interesting is what really surprises. You know that Pacino’s Collins is going to be a self-centered sham that thinks the best way to cope with past hurt and pain, is to buy people nice, pretty and shiny things, but there’s more to him than that. And you’d think the same thing with Garner’s character, who honestly seems like she’d be so against Collins to begin with (and with good reason), but we soon realize and find out more about her that makes it seem like she too wants Danny back in her family’s life, even if she knows it will all fall apart eventually.
Everything and everyone, initially, seems so written in a way that makes it seem as if they’re just going to be types in this conventional plot, but because they’re given new shadings here and there courtesy of Fogelman, they make the plot seem a tad different. Don’t get me wrong, what you can expect to happen at the end, most definitely will, but it’s not all beautiful and perfect; these characters are still definitely hurt from something and Fogelman doesn’t forget about what makes them all tick. This is Fogelman’s first time being both behind the writer’s desk as well as the camera, and I have to say, the guy’s impressed me here. While he’s not doing anything necessarily ground-breaking as a director, he keeps a nice pace to where we get just the right amount of details of these characters and what makes them breathe, while also feeling like we’re leading to something worth sitting by.
Sounds obvious, I know, but when you take into consideration many other movies, it’s nice to feel as if every scene on-display has a purpose and isn’t just thrown in there so we can get random scenes of actors acting actor-ly.
But where Danny Collins really excels, is with the cast who, let’s be honest, had they not all been cast in their own, respective roles, wouldn’t have allowed this movie to work as well as it most definitely does. Danny Collins, the character, may seem like one that Al Pacino has played many, many times before, but what he does so well here is that he cools down all of the wild and wacky eccentrics we’re used to seeing Pacino put-on full-display. The only time that he totally mucks it up, is when he’s acting as Danny Collins, the celebrity figure – every other chance he gets to show that there’s more to him than just a presence on the stage, is when he’s with those he wants to surround himself with. Sure, he’s still a bit of a ham, but he’s a sympathetic one that uses his lovely charms to make those around him happier and feel better about themselves. And as expected, Pacino is great at displaying every ounce of humanity within this character.
However, Pacino gets some solid assistance from the great supporting cast. Bobby Cannavale fits perfectly as Danny’s estranged son who is going through his own personal problems, yet, still seems like he wants to connect with his dad despite all of the problems he’s been through over the years; Jennifer Garner is sweet and subtle as the wife that doesn’t want to control too much of what happens between Danny and her husband, yet, also doesn’t want it all to fall apart like before; Christopher Plummer is a great source of humor here as Danny’s manager, but also has a sweet side to him that makes it easy to see why he and Danny have been together for so very long; and Annete Benning, despite seeming like a total stuck-up gal in the earlier portions of this movie, shows that she’s got more of a fun and zany side to her that’s perfectly compatible with Collins’. And heck, even Josh Peck’s pretty good here.
Now, there’s something you don’t see every day!
Consensus: Everything about Danny Collins‘ plot is predictable, but there’s a certain amount of heart and sweetness guiding it along, even despite the ensemble’s fantastic work.
8 / 10