“Danny Collins” – a film review by Gary Chew
If you’ve had enough birthdays, as I have, you’ll remember how the Beatles made you feel when they burst on the American scene. Some of that emotion will make a resurgence in you if you see Danny Collins. People who joined the rest of us on the planet well after Beatlemania stand a good chance of tapping into that vibe too, watching the indefatigable Al Pacino — in the title role — with Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer and Bobby Cannavale in a well-done, satisfying movie.
In his directorial debut, Dan Fogelman has spun Danny Collins from an actual event in the life of
Steve Tilston, an English singer/songwriter. The story goes that John Lennon once sent a letter to Tilston (Collins in the film) that Tilston never read until 40 years later. Seems Lennon is taken with Tilston’s songs and encourages Tilston to keep composing and give him and Yoko a call to chat. Lennon is even so open with Tilston as to jot down his private phone number.
Fogelman expands his script with a fictional, rich and famous, cranky veteran American rocker called Collins. Danny’s manager and best friend, Frank (Plummer) gives Collins a letter he’s been “sitting on” a while. It’s Danny’s surprise birthday present. Lennon’s letter flips Danny. God, why didn’t he get to read it right after Lennon mailed it?
The rest is darned entertaining. Lennon’s missive compels Danny to turn over that proverbial new leaf: get his act together. After all, he’s an old dude now; ease off on those recreational drugs and the booze. Maybe write another song. Get in touch with his son Tom (Cannavale) whom he’s never seen and whose mother Danny never married. Tom’s Mom has passed away.
Sounds a little hackneyed but way well worth the time watching Danny Collins.
Tom’s married to Samantha (Garner). They have a precious 6-year-old daughter named Hope (Giselle Eisenberg). Young Giselle is guaranteed to knock your socks off with her performance. Ms. Eisenberg already has two other titles on her resume that make one sit up and take notice: A Most Violent Year and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Wealthy Danny shows up at Tom and Samantha’s modest digs driving a red Mercedes convertible. Tom is not amused. Samantha’s on edge. Hope’s having a ball. “A grandpa, Mama! And I’ve seen him on TV.”
Another running piece of fine work Fogelman allows is for Danny to straighten up and fly a more direct vector in terms of associating with women. That’s where Mary (Bening) comes in. To be near Tom, Danny has taken up the most expensive suite at a New Jersey Hilton that’s managed by Mary. Since Mary is an attractive, middle-aged professional woman, Danny hits on her in all their scenes for having dinner with him. Bening, another really fine actor, is very close to stealing scenes from our old Pacino pal. Any movie actor would likely tell you that’s not easy. But Danny and Mary “have good patter,” as Danny blurts when she demurs on his first dinner invitation.
It’s about as solid a cast as one could expect. The extraordinary Plummer is perfect as the aging, wise, longtime manager. Cannavale, who bold me over with his small part but expansive character in Woody Allen’s recent gem, Blue Jasmine, does some scene stealing of his own.
Then there are those familiar John Lennon songs swinging by that the Beatle sings on the soundtrack, using lyrics that seem to have been magically written after Fogelman finished the script. Imagine that!