Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is a world famous rock star, but the fact of the matter is he hasn’t released any new material in thirty years, and now makes his money on the nostalgia circuit, playing sold out concerts to a legion of ageing fans and their offspring who only want to hear his hits, like his signature tune Baby Doll. He’s happy to oblige, it has made him a fortune after all, yet by this point he is feeling dead inside as he churns out the safe and familiar, and the effects of cocaine and alcohol are not helping soothe the pain of his thwarted creativity. His manager Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) has a present for him, however, one which changes Danny’s perspective on life…
Although Danny Collins was a fictional character, as the card that comes up at the beginning indicates there was some truth in his tale, for this was based on something that happened to musician Steve Tilston when he mentioned in an interview that he believed if he had made a large amount of profit from his music, it would have affected his output detrimentally. No less than John Lennon read this and wrote a letter to him protesting that it simply wasn’t the case, inviting him to call the star to discuss it, but the sad thing was the letter didn’t reach Tilston until decades later and Lennon was long dead. It’s a good story, but perhaps more of an anecdote than something to build an entire movie upon, and so it was with writer and director Dan Fogelman’s work here.
In the fictional world, Danny, who comes across as a Neil Diamond type rather than a would-be John Lennon, receives this letter from the Beatle and it prompts him to cancel the rest of his tour then break off his marriage to his far younger fiancée (who is cheating on him, so that's OK) and move into a hotel in New Jersey to be nearer the son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale), who he has never met, mainly because Tom never wanted to meet him. Sounds pretty soap opera, right? Yet there was a knowing quality to the way it was presented, telling the audience yeah, we know you know how these things go, so let’s just sit back and enjoy it; the trouble with that is, by trying to pre-empt the feelings of overfamiliarity the enterprise appeared jaded and tired.
What this really had going for it was Al Pacino, and you could at least thank him for not taking another role as a seventy-year-old cop tracking down a serial killer, but his considerable charm allowed the film to coast along with no surprises, appropriately much as his character’s career was doing in those regular, safe concerts he was resenting so much. When he’s in the hotel he has a chance at romance with the manager, Mary Sinclair (Annette Bening), though she has recently divorced and is not seeking a relationship, so at least there’s an acknowledgement that a rock star would have difficulty settling down in a normal life once they have attained a certain level of fame, yet even then there was a sense nobody was really pushing themselves here, it could have been a TV movie with swearing and big celebrities.
In fact, what it looked like was Fogelman had secured the rights to a bunch of John Lennon solo material, and written his script to fit around the moods of, say, Beautiful Boy (for when Danny meets Tom) or Cold Turkey (for when Danny falls off the wagon), rather than thinking up the plot first. Those songs must have cost a packet judging by how the rest of the film was stuffed full of as much product placement as they could fit in, from the hotel chain (Bening even has to recite their corporate line) to a toy store to bottled water with labels prominently displayed, which given how the undemanding experience goes, was what you noticed if you were not diverted by the rest of it. Tom gets a subplot about fighting cancer, which gives him a slight cough and no other symptoms, which makes it all the more imperative Danny bonds with him and his pregnant wife (Jennifer Garner), plus the hyperactive moppet of a granddaughter, but there was a smug tone to the presumption that this was what Pacino’s fans would deserve at this stage, not to mention his habit of splashing the cash to wave a magic wand. Nice final scene, however. Music by Ryan Adams and Theodore Shapiro.
[Entertainment One's DVD has a making of featurette and mock ups of Danny's album covers as extras.]