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USA 2015
Directed by
Dan Fogelman
106 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Danny Collins

Synopsis: An aging rock star decides to change his life when he discovers a 40-year-old letter written to him by John Lennon.

Danny Collins isn’t a bad movie but it is an awful one. Helmed by debut director Dan Fogelman, a screenwriter responsible for Hollywood pabulum such as Cars and Stupid, Crazy, Love, oddly enough the problem is not with the directing which is self-effacingly efficient but the misbegotten script.

The film opens in 1971 with a young Danny Collins, then a pop-folk-rock singer being interviewed by some louche, guffawing rock journo who takes great delight in telling the anxious young man that he’s going to be huge but that fame and fortune will destroy his artistic integrity.  Cut to forty years later and Al Pacino emerges from backstage to sing Danny Collins's signature song, “Hey Baby Doll”.

That it is an inane song is not the problem. The problem is that Danny is supposed to be a hard-living, unreconstructed rockstar and he’s singing a song that is more Cliff Richards than Keith Richards. Not only that but he’s adored by all ages and nationalities. Danny gets the kind of adulation that Mick Jagger could only dream about.  Oh and he’s also as rich as Croesus.  As “HBD” is the only thing we ever hear from him I’m guessing that we’re supposed to imagine Neil Diamond (if you recall “Sweet Caroline”, you’ll know what I mean) although some pomaded, Euro-trash has-been would be closer to the mark.

Anyway, it’s Danny’s birthday and long-time manager, Frank (a creaking Christopher Plummer), gives him a letter that John Lennon sent him in response to that 1971 interview, encouraging Danny to stay true to his art and giving him his phone number. Danny experiences an epiphany and abandoning his dissolute ways goes in search of the son he’s never met, checking into the New Jersey Hilton where meets Mary (Annette Bening) the chipper senior manager, who Danny immediately sets about trying to woo. This latter aspect of the film is the best with the two seasoned troupers trading Fogelman’s bantering dialogue amusingly.  In fact, the rest of the film, you really don’t want to know.

The sight of Bobby Cannavale as Pacino’s son, Tom, is incongruous to say the least but the way in which his lifelong resentment evaporates as Danny slaps down tuition fees for his excessively cute and excruciatingly annoying AHDD daughter then lays on her enough brand-placed toys for an entire classroom of kids is nearly enough to induce a gag response. And Jennifer Garner as Tos wife? Yeah, sure. That's just right for a New Jersey construction worker.  And to keep the father-son dynamic simmering Fogelman endows Tom with a rare form of cancer. As a sentimental pastiche it's almost bizarre in its opportunism.

During all this, Danny in his to-thine-own-self-be-true mode writes one song (albeit a not very good one) and Frank organizes an intimate showcase for him to showcase his re-born singer-songwriter persona (yes, that’s with one ordinary song and no rehearsal) to which Mary and his newly-reconciled son come. In a briefly interesting turn of events Danny loses his bottle, sings "Hey Baby Doll", and proceeds to revert to his drugged-sodden self.  But that disaster is soon papered over because as Frank says, Danny’s got a good heart (and he's still got lots of money). So, says Fogelman, maybe everything will turn out O.K. in the end.

We get a little coda in which the real-life recipient of Lennon’s letter, English folk singer Steve Tilston recounts the story but as that is the only point of contiguity between him and Fogelman’s fiction it is peculiarly pointless.  Nor does Fogelman seem to appreciate that Lennon was much less as a songwriter alone than he was with McCartney and the regular insertion of Lennon’s so-so post-Beatles songs don’t really do anything to bolster the legitimacy of this ill-conceived hogwash.

Sean Penn and Paolo Sorrentino gave us a much more interesting portrayal of a burnt-out pop-star with the 2011 film, This Must Be The Place. Fogelman doesn't getting close to its level of wit whilst Pacino just doesn’t seem to care.

FYI: Pacino fared much better in 2014's The Humbling  in which he plays a burnt out stage actor.




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