Reviewed by Patrick Hao
There is a genre of Hollywood movies that can be classified as nothing other than “charming.” These movies bathe Hollywood in a conceptual sleekness, in which big stars play on their charisma and persona and stakes are just high enough to warrant investment that is impossible to resist. Danny Collins, directed by Dan Fogelman, embraces “charming” without conviction.
At first, Danny Collins seems like it is heading down a familiar “rock star redemption story” road. Al Pacino plays the titular character, a folk-turned-pop star in the vein of Rod Stewart, who enjoys the vices associated with his stardom. The arc of his character is triggered by the belated discovery of a letter written to him by John Lennon before Collins reached the point of selling out his artistic integrity for artistic fame. This letter gives Collins the motivation to imagine “what would have been” and he travels to New Jersey, making his base out of a Hilton. There he schmoozes with the manager of the hotel (Annette Bening) and tries to reconnect with his estranged, illegitimate son, played by Bobby Cannavale.
A more manipulative film would take this plot, which is very loosely based on a true story, and immediately derail it in its false sentiments. But Fogelman, a longtime screenwriter and first-time director, is able to keep the movie on track by adeptly knowing when to push the movie with forward momentum and when to pause to let moments breathe. He has the Hollywood filmmaking gene of someone like Rob Reiner, teetering between drama and comedy in the best of ways.
A lot of the successes comes from Pacino, whose investment in the role could either make him an asset or a detriment to the film. It is hard not to equate Pacino’s career trajectory with that of Danny Collins, who started out in the mid-’70s as a folk singer/songwriter but fell under the spell of rock ‘n’ roll. All Collins needs to do is sing a few hits written by others and he receives a paycheck. Pacino was in the height of his powers in 1970s in gritty character dramas such as Serpico or Dog Day Afternoon. Now he is a caricature, summed up by the phrase “hoo-rah.”
There is no sadness in Danny Collins. There are sad moments, but this is not an introspective piece. Pacino has a knack for acting like he is not trying. He is playing fully with his charisma as an actor here while being able to hit every emotional beat. That assuredness makes you believe that Collins is a rock star that wears half-buttoned shirts. It is wonderful to watch, especially when put against a foil such as Bening. The film constantly mentions the verbal rapport between them because it is there. They spit witty jabs at each other, the way Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn used to, Bening always with a clenched smile on her face.
What is unfortunate is that this film was released as an indie film. This is an adult film (not in the pornographic sense), the type of modest filmmaking that would be released every week as an alternative to blockbusters. Good films such as this, providing escapism in the real world, are always welcome, because they are so few and far between.
IF YOU GO: Danny Collins (rated R) is playing at the Art Mission and Theater, 61 Prospect Ave., Binghamton. Screenings are at 5:15, 7:15 and 9:15 p.m. Friday (April 24); at 3, 5:15, 7:15 and 9:15 p.m. Saturday (April 25); at 3, 5:15 and 7:15 p.m. Sunday (April 26) and at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday (April 28-30).