Directed and written by Dan Fogelman. Produced by Nimitt Mankad, Jessie Nelson, Denise Di Novi, and Shivani Rawat. Release date: March 20, 2015.
The last decade and a half of Al Pacino‘s career hasn’t been particularly good – and that might be an understatement. Anyone who appeared in Gigli, 88 Minutes, and Jack and Jill during that period isn’t exactly racking up the accolades. As a result, for those who don’t go back and watch older movies, there’s a perception out there that Pacino isn’t a good actor, or that he isn’t any longer. To those people I say this: Watch Danny Collins and be reminded – or taught – just how good Pacino can be.
Danny Collins does begin with a relatively familiar premise. Pacino plays the eponymous lead, a rock star who has been performing for 40 years and at this point is addicted to both drink and drugs. On one of his birthdays, his manager (Christopher Plummer), gives him a long-lost letter from John Lennon, which tells Danny not to stop writing songs, as Lennon liked them. Danny, having not seen the letter, sold out and stopped writing his own music. The discovery of the letter leads to an epiphany of sorts, so Danny decides to leave his mansion of a house and go meet and hopefully connect with his now-adult son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale), whom he had never previously met, all while getting back in touch with the man he used to be, prior to all of the selling out and drug/alcohol abuse.
This isn’t a unique story. “Guy wants to reconnect with his estranged family” is something we’ve seen in films before. We’ve seen tales of redemption since before we had sound in our movies. Danny Collins works in spite of this. At one point it actually addresses its clichéd story directly and tells us that it isn’t that type of film. And despite still falling for some of the story’s pratfalls and predictable moments, this is a movie that still offers an enjoyable, funny, and surprisingly sweet and earnest experience.
Part of the reason it succeeds is because of Danny as a character. Quite often in these types of movies, the lead is an awful person at the start and over the course of the film develops into something resembling a decent human being. In Danny Collins, our protagonist begins the film as an addict, but not a bad person. The letter doesn’t spark a change so much as it does provoke him into doing something he’s wanted to do for a long time. He treats everyone nicely, he’s incredibly charming, and he’s quite funny. You want to root for Danny right off the bat, which is a nice change from what these films typically offer.
Danny Collins is a movie you’ve seen before, but told in a humorous and heartfelt way that makes it worthwhile.
The other reason that Danny Collins works as well as it does stems from its talented supporting cast and their interactions with this character we grow to love. Danny spends a lot of time at a Hilton hotel – yes, the film sometimes comes across as an advertisement for Hilton – which is run by Mary (Annette Benning), who becomes a reluctant love interest. Danny’s manager gets several great scenes with him. Tom is married to Samantha (Jennifer Garner), and both of them get a couple of strong moments. Everything revolves around Danny, though; when he’s not on-screen, the film grinds to a halt. Thankfully, those moments are few and far between.
For most of the film, we watch Danny interact with all of these individuals, and we laugh from start to finish. The film was both written and directed by Dan Fogelman, here making his directorial debut – and what a debut this is. He takes a clichéd story and turns it into something that’s genuinely affecting and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. I laughed more during Danny Collins than I do during most comedies. Just look at some of 2015’s earlier sad excuses for comedies: Get Hard, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Mortdecai, and Unfinished Business. I laughed more with Danny Collins than during those four movies combined. Add on Danny Collins‘ heartfelt message and genuinely affecting plot, and you’ve got a really solid movie.
Now, it isn’t a perfect movie, in large part because as funny and earnest as it is, it still often comes across as slight. It also sometimes falls into the problems that come with its genre, and it’s probably a little too long – even though it just sort of ends. It doesn’t finish on a climactic high or low; it just ends. I can see some people having a problem with its ending, too, but more because it’s ambiguous enough to anger people who arbitrarily hate ambiguous conclusions. For me, though? The only reason it isn’t a great ending is because it’s not ambiguous enough. It’s tough to interpret it in more than one way, and as a result it fails at its attempt at ambiguity.
Danny Collins is a movie you’ve seen before, but told in a humorous and heartfelt way that makes it worthwhile. It’s slight at points, and eye-rollingly sincere at others, but it works more often than not, in large part because of how good Al Pacino is in the leading role. The supporting cast is equally as wonderful, and all together they make great comedy and strong drama.
Bottom Line: Good acting, a funny script, and touching drama make Danny Collins worthwhile.
Recommendation: It might not be necessary to see Danny Collins at the cinema, but it’s better than most comedies you could see, so it’s worth seeing at some point.[rating=3.5]