Starring: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner
Genre: Comedy/ Drama
Aging rocker Danny Collins (Pacino) has enjoyed a hugely successful career as a singer and all the wealth and excess that has come with it. However, after Danny receives from his manager (Christopher Plummer) a letter that was written to him by John Lennon 40 years ago but never delivered, it inspires Danny to finally change his life and career, and finally be true to himself and those in his life him.
Screenwriter Dan Fogelman has seemingly been happy to add films to his CV recently that are not only pure genre pieces but have also been quite happy to embrace the clichés and conventions of the genre. Well, this has produced mixed results including a generic romantic comedy that was surprisingly half decent by the low genre standards (Crazy, Stupid, Love.), a very average mother-son road trip film (The Guilt Trip) and a horrendously bad ‘comedy’ about old blokes trying to relive their youth (Last Vegas). Of course as he was solely the screenwriter there is no way of really knowing what may have been altered and compromised from his original screenplay, well for Danny Collins Fogelman is for the first time the boss as he is both screenwriter and director.
Though in narrative terms Danny Collins certainly takes a conventional concept that has unquestionably been tried and tested, I always state that it is not the concept that is important; the primary concept and story can be extremely unoriginal in initial premise, it is what the film then subsequently does with it that is most important. Well, though Danny Collins certainly contains its fair share of genre tropes and very predictable moments, it does contain enough good writing and very good acting to elevate it above being just another lazy genre piece, just.
Fogelman’s script is surprisingly naturalistic and raw, with the 15 certificate meriting swearing and drug taking adding the bittersweet rawness to help the film rise above the saccharine fluffiness a film of this type usually embraces. The dialogue exchanges certainly frequently venture into cliché, but the naturalistic style of the writing does add a certain level of sincerity to what the characters are saying, and therefore emotional engagement.
The comedy too is very subtle; we have no stupid comic set pieces or one liners, but more believable and realistic comic lines mixed in with the conversations that are not ever dwelled upon for too long. This is far more effective than the usual improvised overlong skit comedy we are used to these days, and they do feel far more in tune (no pun intended) with the bittersweet comedy of everyday life, and therefore a little more relatable.
There are also the occasional mildly satirical swipes at the music industry, but though these are a welcome addition to the story and enhance it, they do not tell us anything we do not know already. Of course the overall narrative never steps too far away from convention or predictability, but at least it does so in a way that makes for enjoyable and involving viewing.
What first and foremost makes Danny Collins such enjoyable viewing is the performances, which are by in large note perfect. Al Pacino has never been (or probably had) so much fun, and gives an incredibly charismatic performance that certainly elevates the material he is given to make Danny Collins a genuinely likeable character that we want to root for and believe in as he embarks on his predictable narrative journey.
Excellent supporting performances are also provided by Annette Bening and Christopher Plummer as the hotel manager where Danny decides to take up residence and Danny’s manager respectfully. Pacino shares great on screen chemistry with both of them and the scenes Pacino shares with them further enhance both our enjoyment and involvement of the film.
The main emotional backbone of the narrative is Danny’s attempts to finally get to know his son Tom (Bobby Cannavale), and Tom’s family. While this certainly does provide some genuinely sentimental moments (and a great final scene that is very well written), Cannavale perhaps over plays the sentiment a little too much at times. However this does not detract too much from what is a very predictable, but highly enjoyable story.
An abundance of cliché, convention and predictability; however thanks to the most raw and bittersweet writing that Fogelman has produced so far and some superb performances, Danny Collins still entertains and moves enough to raise it above being the fluff it could have been.