There’s a fascinating true story behind this film dating back to 1971, when then fledgling folk musician and songwriter Steve Tilston was asked in an interview if he thought success, if he achieved it, would adversely affect his songwriting. Tilston replied in the affirmative. Nearly 40 years later he discovered that John Lennon had read that interview and written him a letter, which Tilston never received, assuring his fellow musician that one could be rich and famous and still be true to oneself – and including his home phone number. As it happens, when “Danny Collins” writer/director Dan Fogelman contacted Tilston, the singer didn’t feel that he had sold out for success, so probably a friendly chat with Lennon wouldn’t have altered his destiny, but Fogelman set his imagination going on the situation and a film was born.
But no, this is not the story of how Danny Collins met John Lennon. Danny, once a shy lad who really believed in the integrity of the songs he was writing, is now a bombastic hedonist awash in booze, cocaine, ridiculous designer gear and beautiful women young enough to be his daughters. He still pulls the audiences in but most of them are now hovering around pension age, as indeed is he and all they really want to hear is his big hit from years back, “Hey Baby Doll”, a catchy enough number but for Danny a symbol of what he has lost by selling out.
Then on his birthday his best friend and manager Frank (Plummer) gives him the Lennon letter, which sets Danny off on a journey to try to recover the things in life he has thrown aside for mammon. He checks into the suburban New Jersey Hilton and imports a grand piano on which he tries to write some new material and use it to remorselessly woo the hotel manager (Bening) – “age appropriate I see”, remarks Frank dryly. Most importantly though he tracks down the son he abandoned in his youth. Bobby (Cannavale) is now an adult with a pregnant wife Samantha (Garner), a special needs small daughter Hope (Giselle Eisenberg) and a secret. And he doesn’t want anything to do with Danny. Hardly surprising really. “Money can’t buy you love”.
This could have been an unbearably sentimental tale but it never is because of a good script and first class performances, particularly from Pacino at its centre. The character is in practice a totally selfish bastard but Pacino gives him such genuine charm plus a self-mocking sense of humour and awareness of his own ridiculousness that we are with him all the way. One might think Pacino was the last person to cast as an ageing pop star but he pulls it off. His face is very much lived in but he’s a lot less grizzled than Mick Jagger or Keith Richards and with that charm and humour he’s still sexy. His singing’s not at all bad either and he does the pop singer moves well. And the backchat chemistry with Bening, whose wit is as dry as a martini in the way she fends off his attempts at later life romance, is a delight.
There are good performances too from Garner and Cannavale, whose interaction with Danny provides many of the genuinely moving moments in the film, while Danny’s relationship with Plummer as the down to earth outspoken Frank is well textured, witty and totally believable.
This is a real audience pleaser of a movie, which also has a sense of truth and integrity. Fans of Lennon won’t be disappointed either, as the film is liberally and appropriately sprinkled with his songs as an appropriate comment on the action.
Review by Carol Allen
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