Aged, cheesy rock star Danny (Pacino) belatedly receives a letter John Lennon wrote him 43 years ago and has an epiphany. He quits his tour and lavish wild-man lifestyle to rediscover his musical heart and connect with the son he’s never met. What could possibly go wrong?
We thought we’d seen it all when it came to Al Pacino. And now he comes out singing. Danny Collins is far more comedic than most musician-searching-for-redemption tales and a vindication for Pacino, for so many years now given to eccentric and florid excess. Playing a rock star with fame and riches and the obligatory hot, young girlfriend may not be a huge stretch, but it’s wonderful to see he still has the craft to dial it down from 11 in some beautifully low-key moments. He summons empathy and enormous charm in Danny’s determination to recapture everything he pissed away. He’s also hilarious.
It helps, and no doubt raised Al’s game, that the cast assembled around him is exceptional. Priceless Christopher Plummer is a scream as Danny’s loyal long-time manager and voice of reason, Frank, who calmly negotiates his artiste’s extremes with deliciously dry one-liners. Annette Bening, as the primly suited manager of the modest hotel to which Danny retreats, radiates warmth and good humour, resisting his relentless seduction shtick in scenes of bantering repartee that evoke sparkling comedies of yesteryear. Jennifer Garner, as the daughter-in-law, is the graceful, grounded eye in the father-son storm that rages once Danny presents himself at his stranger son’s New Jersey suburban home. The biggest score here is teaming Pacino with Bobby Cannavale as the resentful son, Tom. The two have worked together on stage (in Glengarry Glen Ross) and they are a pitch-perfect duo in every note of comedy, tragedy, anger and tentative tenderness.
Inspired by the true incident of English folk singer Steve Tilston’s discovery that Lennon had written to him in 1971, Dan Fogelman has given his cast a smart, sharp script, laugh-out-loud funny, that flirts with the clichés without surrendering to them. Without giving it away, the final shot is killer, worth the price of admission and investment in a packet of tissues.
Hugely, irresistibly enjoyable, with star chemistry to spare, genuine laughs and tears, and the bonus of apt Lennon songs on the soundtrack.