A slick cover version of self-discovery movie
Other Hollywood tales of triumph against musical adversity have been more soulful yet there have been few as entertaining as Danny Collins, largely thanks to leading man Al Pacino, writes Damon Smith
DANNY COLLINS (15, 106 mins) Drama/Comedy/Romance. Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer, Giselle Eisenberg, Melissa Benoit, Josh Peck, Katarina Cas, Brian Smith. Director: Dan Fogelman.
A CAPTION at the beginning of writer-director Dan Fogelman's cliche-riddled yet uproarious comedy reveals there is a germ of fact buried beneath the tears and cloying sentiment: "The following is kind of based on a true story. A little bit."
The seed of Fogelman's script was British folk singer Steve Tilston, who received a supportive fan letter from John Lennon, more than 25 years after the death of the former Beatle. The handwritten missive, penned in 1971, advised the then 21-year-old Tilston to cling to his dreams because "being rich doesn't change your experience in the way you think".
Lennon added his telephone number and invited Tilston to call for advice. Fogelman repurposes this cruel twist of fate as the catalyst for an ageing singer-songwriter's belated redemption in Danny Collins.
Tales of triumph against musical adversity litter the Hollywood hills and are warmly received by Oscar voters, most recently in 2009 when Jeff Bridges won a golden statuette for his portrayal of a fading country music star in Crazy Heart.
Al Pacino delivers a similarly show-stopping turn as the irascible showman of the title, who sacrificed his artistic integrity years ago at the altar of commercial success. For a birthday present, straight-talking manager Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) presents Danny with a note from Lennon that makes the singer-songwriter realise he has squandered his talent.
"I haven't written a song in 30 years. I'm a joke," concedes Danny. So he ditches his trophy girlfriend (Katarina Cas), cancels the remaining dates of a greatest hits tour and heads for the nearest Hilton to rediscover his artistic mojo.
Hotel manager Mary Sinclair (Annette Bening) catches his roving eye, but steadfastly refuses his amorous overtures. When Frank eventually catches up with his superstar client, he is pleasantly surprised by the object of Danny's affection.
"She's lovely," agrees Frank.
"And age-appropriate," dryly retorts Danny.
Thus Danny begins to compose songs again and he summons the courage to rebuild bridges to his estranged and embittered son Tom (Bobby Cannavale), who has a pregnant wife (Jennifer Garner) and a needy daughter (Giselle Eisenberg) to protect from celebrity-tainted ghosts of the past.
Danny Collins strums a familiar tune and as existential crises go, the lead character's is relatively brief and painless, but the onscreen rapport between Pacino, Bening and Plummer is irresistible.
"You're a huge dinner tease," twinkles Danny after Mary shoots down one of his cheesy chat-ups.
Plot revelations involving Cannavale's working-class provider are emotionally manipulative, but it's difficult to hold back tears when the ensemble cast plays these archetypes with such gusto.
Fogelman's picture is a guilty pleasure: a slick cover version of previous journeys of self-discovery that were undoubtedly more soulful but seldom more entertaining.