Written and Directed by Dan Fogelman / Starring Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer
Chime In magazine editor: You write like fucking Lennon. You’re gonna be huge, kid.
As sung by the immortal Ethel Merman, “There’s no people like show people”, and lately, these are the type of people that Al Pacino seems to gravitate towards playing. From his eye bulging, over-the-top portrayal of Phil Spector for the HBO production of the same name to the borderline brilliance he brought to the befuddled stage actor in THE HUMBLING, Pacino stars as DANNY COLLINS, a hugely successful singer.
After a disclaimer that this movie is “sorta, kinda” based on a true story, it opens with the aforementioned Lennon quote, then a quick montage of early album covers, which any rock music trivia purist will appreciate, before we finally arrive at a sold out concert in 2014, where a Golden Girls crowd is singing along with Danny to his biggest hit “Hey Baby Doll”. In the dressing room after the concert, Collins is reminded by his manager Frank (a dapper Christopher Plummer) that his way-too-young fiancee is throwing him a huge surprise birthday party the following day. The party beautifully portrays what Danny’s life has turned into – a Bacchanalian excess of booze, cocaine, bikini clad babes ogled by balding, leering men. Amidst half naked, fully baked bodies in the pool area, Frank presents Danny with his gift: a framed, handwritten, undelivered 1971 letter from John Lennon to Collins urging him to “stay true to your music”, complete with an invitation to meet and discuss his burgeoning career in depth. Realizing that he hadn’t written a song in thirty years and has turned into “a court jester with a microphone”, this letter is the impetus Danny needs to get his life and career back on track. Hiring a private plane with instructions to have a Mercedes Benz SLS AMG “in red this time” waiting for him (why rent a car when you can buy one on a whim with a sticker price of $190K?), Danny lands in a New Jersey Hilton hotel, managed by Mary (Annette Bening), where his road to redemption begins.
Years ago, I was invited to a Neil Diamond concert and only went because it was free and the seats were in one the Executive Boxes. After ten minutes, I was no longer making snarky sequin shirt and comb-over comments and was swept up in the remarkable energy of the event; by the time Neil sang “Sweet Caroline”, I whipped out my phone to call my sister in Montreal so that we could all sing along with the gem that is Diamond. Watching DANNY COLLINS (where the character of Collins is so obviously inspired by Neil Diamond) reminded me of that concert. Despite the excessive product placement throughout the movie and plot lines so transparent and predictable that, in lesser hands, would grate beyond belief, this movie, like “Sweet Caroline”, is irresistible.
Pacino’s propulsive energy infuses every scene and it is matched by his co-stars. Bobby Cannavale (as the estranged son, Tom) has never been better on screen; the chemistry between him and Pacino is electric. Jennifer Garner, as Tom’s very pregnant wife Samantha is subdued and elegant. Dynamo Giselle Eisenberg as the hyperactive pre-school daughter, annoyingly named Hope, steals every scene she’s in – even from Pacino. Bening, despite affecting a Julianne Moore giggle, shines in a very predictable role. Leaving the best supporting role for last, Plummer shows impeccable comic timing. Each line elicits genuine belly laughs.
First time director, Dan Fogelman (best known for writing CRAZY STUPID LOVE) mines authentic solid gold moments amidst the plot contrivances. If only it had been a tad less predictable. That said, DANNY COLLINS is hugely entertaining and could put Pacino’s name back in the mix when awards season comes around.