The Charming "Danny Collins" Deserved More Time in the Spotlight Review

Charming. That’s the one word to describe Dan Fogelman’s brand of filmmaking. With a background that includes penning Cars, Fred Claus, and Tangled, his more recent, and perhaps breakthrough turn was as scribe of the, yes, charming Crazy, Stupid, Love. With a career altering performance from Steve Carell and a supporting cast that toted great turns by Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, and Emma Stone, with a little Kevin Bacon tossed in the starpower salad, Crazy, Stupid, Love deftly mixed midlife drama with heart-melting sincerity, all overpowered by good laughs throughout. Charming.

With Danny Collins, Fogelman makes his directorial debut with a cast fit for awards season and a project that is, well, you get it.

Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is an aging rock star who has lived a life of commercial success and artistic self-betrayal. His young wife is as meaningless as the fast sports cars and sprawling Angelino mansion. Together with his manager, Frank (Christopher Plummer), he celebrates another birthday of excess and dissatisfaction, coasting on a wave of Scarface powder. Only when Frank presents him with a letter penned to him in 1971 by John Lennon, when he was just breaking through with a stunning first album, does Danny realizes how deep his displeasure goes. He has spent his life singing the songs the record label gave him, long ago abandoning his own powerful writing and voice.

Based on a true story, Danny Collins follows its titular character back to New Jersey, much to Frank’s humorous chagrin, on a valiant odyssey to become the man he could have become if Lennon had reached him in ’71. Staying at a humble Hilton, Danny moves in a Steinway and starts writing, fishing everyday for a dinner date with hotel manager Mary Sinclair (Annette Bening); someone finally a little more “age-appropriate.” His real objective, however, is to reconnect, or rather, connect, with the grown son he’s never met, Tom (Bobby Cannavale).

Cannavale made waves on Broadway with phenomenal leading roles in The Motherf*cker With The Hat and Big Knife, before tearing it up on Boardwalk Empire as the deranged Gyp Rosetti. Pacino himself made it a term of his contract that Cannavale had to play his son and the results are superb. Jennifer Garner rounds things out as Tom’s beleaguered wife Samantha, with a cadre of other known faces in the mix. Fogelman has constructed a truly charming piece. That is its undeniable strength and also, perhaps, its one weakness. At the end, there really isn’t much to the story beyond the obvious and the events unfold predictably enough, but that doesn’t change the fact that the performances are endearing, the scenes well-developed, and the overall package a pleasant one.

Pacino handedly captures the eagerness of a man rededicated to discovering his youthful brilliance and inspiration, while Bening counters with a perfect authenticity, giving him another old soul looking for a second childhood, with all the divorces, failures, and baggage of their first adulthoods. Pacino’s Collins is a force of nature, attesting to the actor’s continuing charisma, flair for originality, and technique onscreen, even after decades of doing the dance. Cannavale anchors the film’s most important storyline, coping with a hyperactive child that he can’t afford the necessary support for and a harrowing secret of his own that he tries bravely, if pigheadedly, to conceal from his pregnant and struggling wife.

Danny Collins didn’t make the splash it could have, but it’s never too late for a second chance. You might not put it in again and again, but the first time through won’t be a disappointment. There is drama and heartache, but the tone seems light and the journey gratifying. Fogelman is busy as can be with TV shows and movies, but don’t be surprised if he’s back behind the camera with another stellar cast before too long.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Extras include a behind-the-scenes look and a fun collection of fictitious album covers from Danny Collins's career. The discerning cinephile will recognize the cover photos as photos from some of Pacino’s classic films.

"Danny Collins" is on sale June 30, 2015 and is rated R. Drama. Written and directed by Dan Fogelman. Starring Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Garner.

Kyle North • Staff Writer


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