Title: Danny Collins
Director: Dan Fogelman
Major Players: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer
Out Of Five: 3
By now, everybody will know that this is the film where Al Pacino plays an aging rock star, so the inevitable question is can he sing? Actually, there’s not many instances of him doing that – a couple in front of an audience and one where he plays a new song for hotel manager Annette Bening. The short answer is no, he’s not very good – and he’s admitted as much in interviews for the film. Which rather undermines the central premise. But this is a film that really wants you to like it and tries so hard that you can just about let that little detail pass.
So, that rock star. Danny Collins (Pacino) has been living off his greatest hits for years, when he’s presented with a spectacular birthday gift – a letter John Lennon wrote to him 40 years ago. It inspires Danny to give up his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, fuelled by drink and drugs, and his trophy girlfriend to go in search of redemption. And to put right some of the wrongs in his life. The most important one is getting to know the son he abandoned.
I’ll be honest and say this wasn’t quite the film I was expecting. I anticipated something more nostalgic, but director Dan Fogelman clearly wanted to give the story some edge, hence the language and lines of coke. Essentially, though, it’s still a soft hearted movie which sometimes tips over into sentimentality and even manipulation. But, just like Pacino’s attempts at singing, you’re prepared to live with it.
So why excuse shortcomings that, in another film, would earn a panning? It’s simply down to the main members of the cast. Pacino’s scenes with hotel manager Mary (Annette Bening) are especially good, charming and timed with deceptively easy precision. As he observes early on in their relationship, “we have good patter.” He’s not wrong. And Christopher Plummer in his element as Danny’s crusty manager, who’s seen and done it all over the years and knows he’s nothing left to lose.
There is a true story behind the film, that of folk singer, Steve Tilston. John Lennon read an interview he gave to a magazine and wrote him a letter, which he didn’t discover until some years later. The text of the letter in the film is based on it but, unlike his movie counterpart, Tilston is living in Yorkshire and playing the folk clubs.
From the outside, you’d think this was another film aimed at the so-called grey market, but Danny’s stay at the Hilton in New Jersey is no Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The hotel is uniform to the point of sterile that it’s a relief the staff are so friendly – and a surprise that Hilton went along with so much product placement for an essentially non-descript establishment. And, while an older audience would be more than comfortable with the music, they might quibble with the language and drugs.
Incidentally, if you read my review of The Goob earlier this week, you’ll know I had reservations about its 18 certificate. Danny Collins rather proves my point. The language is strong, although not quite as tough as The Goob’s: there’s several scenes of coke sniffing, while the strongest drug the British film shows – if you exclude alcohol – is cannabis. And what’s Danny Collins’ rating? 15. I rest my case.
Danny Collins is on general release from Friday, 29 May.