In this film, which we are told is “kind of based on a true story, a little bit”, the soon to be 75 year-old Al Pacino (truly one of our great actors) stars as Danny Collins. Back in 1971 Collins had an acclaimed debut album that some were comparing to John Lennon (whose music is featured throughout the film). We see Danny being interviewed by Chime (think Rolling Stone) magazine, a well-known rock magazine. When asked who his top influence was, he mentions John Lennon.
The next time we see him he is an overweight, cocaine snorting aging rock star, who may remind you a bit of Tom Jones or Neil Diamond on stage. He no longer sings his own songs, but instead sings the oldies that have been written by others, such as “Baby Doll”, for an adoring (and aging) crowd. He has been divorced from three wives, and is currently engaged to a 20-something Sophie (Katarina Cas).
Christopher Plummer is Danny’s long-time manager and best friend Frank, in a part that was originally going to be played by Michael Caine. At Danny’s not so surprise birthday party, Frank presents him with a framed letter that John Lennon had sent Danny 40 years ago after reading the interview in Chime. The hand-written letter tells Danny to be true to his art and never compromise his talent. The letter had been sent to the magazine and they had held on to it, never giving it to Danny. (Note: Lennon did actually send such a letter to English folk singer Steve Tilston).
The letter has a major impact on Danny and he decides to make changes, recognizing that he has wasted his life. He flies to New Jersey, checks into a Hilton hotel, has a piano brought into his room and starts writing a new song, his first in many, many years.
At the Hilton he meets the hotel manager Mary, played well by Annette Bening. The two have chemistry on the screen and eventually develop a friendship, with Danny continually asking her out to dinner, but Mary playing hard to get.
Danny chose New Jersey because that is where Tom lives (played by Bobby Cannavale), the son he has never met from a one night stand decades earlier. Tom is married to the pregnant Samantha (Jennifer Garner) and they have a young child Hope (Giselle Eisenberg) who is adorable and has ADHD. As Danny longs to make changes in his life, forming relationships with the son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter he has never known is at the top of his list. But as you can expect, Tom has no interest in a relationship with Danny.
The film is written and directed by screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Last Vegas, The Guilt Trip, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Cars, Tangled), directing for the first time. It is rated “R” for a significant amount of adult language, the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names, and an unnecessary scene of nudity early in the film. For discerning viewers who want to avert their eyes, the scene comes early in the film as Danny walks into his bedroom, where Sophie is taking a shower.
It’s billed as a comedy, but consider it a drama with a few laughs thrown in. One reviewer from The Detroit News said, “Danny Collins is the cinematic equivalent of a well-sung easy rock tune, enjoyably light and bouncy, with some darker notes hidden within the chords.” It’s a redemptive story of a flawed man reaching a water-shed moment in his life. What will he do? You have to watch the movie to find out. There’s no spoilers here! Though there are certainly objectionable elements to this film, we really enjoyed it due to the strong acting performances, primarily from Pacino, Bening, Plummer and Cannavale.