Narratively, DANNY COLLINS commits more than a few faux pas, but there is such warmth to the melancholy of a life discovered to have been wasted, that the winces they produce are worth enduring. Writer/director Dan Fogelman (CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE) may be too quick the play the melodrama card, but I prefer to focus on the masterful way he hones in on the nuances of real life’s imperfections without resorting to glibness.
The eponymous character, played with heart and soul by Al Pacino, is a rock star in the Bob Dylan/Neil Diamond mold who has attained the
pinnacle of material success by staying the same. His sold-out concerts are filled with the same people who worshipped him 40 years ago, gazing like so many geriatric mooncalves at the girdled, fake-tanned, performer who has been going through the motions for decades. Drifting along with a mildly suicidal depression, and a fiancée half his age, he is brought up short when he learns that four decades before, on the cusp of fame and fortune, John Lennon had written him a letter enclosing his personal phone number and some words of wisdom about how to handle the crush of celebrity. Self-reflection brings a new perspective, making him question the choices he’s made, including never having met his now-adult son (Bobby Canavale).
With the insouciance of someone who has not had to live in the real world for most of his adult life, he cancels his current tour, drops in on said son, sweetly grounded daughter-in-law (Jennifer Garner), and seven-year-old granddaughter daughter, and discovers that money has power, but not enough to make up for a lifetime of emotional neglect, and not just of his son, but of himself, too.
From taking his private jet from Los Angeles to New Jersey, where said son lives, to an indefinite stay in an economy room at the local chain hotel, the re-adjustment to normal life proves elusive with the way his son’s resentment smolders, and with the emotionally mature, age-appropriate and attractive hotel manager (Annette Benning), who is happy to banter with Danny but not to accept so much as his dinner invitation.
Pacino, who has been far too guilty of phoning in performances of late, follows his self-deprecating, multi-layered performance in THE
HUMBLING with another fine turn that is only slightly less deep. The way he growls the word “awesome” to Frank (Christopher Plummer) his long-suffering best friend and manager after a concert is a sublimely understated study in bile and nihilism. Canavale as his son has the less showy role, but he is just as nuanced, balancing the joy he has in his ordinary life with more anger than he knows how to deal with. When he notes that Princeton was not in the cards for him, hence his life as a construction worker who can’t do all he wants to for his ADHD daughter, the vitriol is palpable, but not vicious. The meeting of minds, it can’t quite be called a romance, with Benning is intelligently written, and sharply played as each gets beyond the other’s expectations based on pre-conceived notions, with Benning giving a perky pageboy and professional power-blue attire the dignified sexiness of a real grown-up somehow charmed by the lost little boy of 60-something who has shown has shown up on her doorstep.
Pacino has the courage to sing in this role, belting out by rote Danny’s biggest hit, and soulfully crooning the new song spawned by his new attitude. Bocelli, he’s not, but serviceable and somehow dubbing would have felt like a cheat.
DANNY COLLINS is funny, sweet, bitter, and absurd. When it doesn’t try too hard to hook its audience emotionally, it is at its very best.