I was thinking…
…how coincidental it is that a movie about an aging rock star was released at the same time the Rolling Stones announced that they’re going back on tour.
Or is it?
More on that in a minute.
Al Pacino (Scarface, The Godfather) plays the titular character, an aging soft rock/pop star who has had a hugely successful musical career that has spanned four decades. He prances on stage, belting out bubble gum rabble-pleasers like “Baby Doll,” a song that is similar to but legally distinct from Neil Diamond’s gunshot-to-the-temple-inducing toothache “Sweet Caroline.”
But as the panties thrown on stage during his performances are less Victoria’s Secret and more Depends, he feels worn out, directionless and no longer thrilled with any aspect of his life. The booze, cocaine and women fail to satisfy; and after another birthday soiree leaves him unfulfilled, the last thing he expects is to receive a present that will change everything.
Danny’s best friend and manager, Frank (Christopher Plummer—The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), presents him with a hand-written letter from John Lennon, one which the former Beatle had penned in 1971 and sent to Danny after reading an interview with him in an underground rock magazine.
In the letter, Lennon tells Danny to stay true to himself and his music and no amount of money and fame will ever change him.
The problem is, Lennon had sent the letter to the magazine and Danny had never even known it had existed.
This, of course, infuses Danny with the desire to discover just where his path would have wound had he gotten the letter as had been intended.
Leaving L.A., Danny cancels his tour and moves indefinitely into a New Jersey Hilton where he starts penning new songs. With a new lease on life, he gives up drugs and womanizing, seeking instead for a meaningful relationship with the hotel manager, Mary (Annette Bening–American Beauty).
The real reason for the change of scenery is to make contact with his son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale—Chef, Ant-Man), a construction worker who lives nearby with his wife (Jennifer Garner—Elektra, Alias) and their special needs daughter.
Having never before met his son, as the latter was the result of a liaison with a fan over 30 years before, Danny is not expecting a particularly warm welcome.
He is not disappointed.
But he perseveres, both with his son and with the hotel manager, often stumbling along the way.
If you’re thinking there’s something about this premise that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s based on an actual event. The British musician Steve Tilson, a folksinger with a 40-year career and nearly two dozen albums under his belt, belatedly received a letter from fellow Liverpudlian John Lennon after the latter read an interview with him in ZigZag Magazine in 1971. In the interview, Tilson stated that he thought too much money and fame would have a detrimental effect on his music.
Lennon’s letter shared with him his own experiences:
“Being rich doesn’t change your experience in the way you think. The only difference basically is that you don’t have to worry about money – food – roof – etc, but all other experiences – emotions – relationships – are the same as anybody’s.”
Although Tilson never experienced fame and fortune to the extent that Danny Collins’ did, the genesis of the story remains the same.
The casting could not have been better in this film. Everyone fulfills their respective roles with aplomb. Al Pacino’s performance is great, as expected; but it is Bobby Cannavale’s emotionally-conflicted turmoil that shines out as a hidden gem within the picture. The final scene in particular will seek out the strings of your heart, wrap them around its fingers and give them a severe yank. And the effervescent Giselle Eisenberg (The Wolf of Wall Street, Sex Tape), who plays Danny Collins’ granddaughter, is a bundle of precocious delight.
Although you may view the trailer or even hear the premise and think you might be able to mentally write out the rest of the picture to its conclusion, I can happily say you’re probably wrong.
Heartbreak, disappointment, hope and fear all have a play, culminating in the cathartic caress that is Danny’s newly written song “Don’t Look Down”–a piece that could have easily been written by Lennon. But with Pacino’s aged and gravelly voice coaxing the tender refrain, it leads one into a somber melancholy that lasts well after the film concludes.
Repeatedly called “ridiculous” by those he wishes to get to know better and strives to love, we cannot help but feel for this tortured old man. It is akin to the feelings one has for Ebenezer Scrooge as he reviews both the lost and un-experienced moments of his past. We want him to be forgiven by those he has neglected on his path to wealth, because if he can attain forgiveness, surely there is hope for the rest of us.
A beautiful film well worth seeing, above all Danny Collins stands as a morality tale, much as Charles Dickens’ aforementioned work did before it. It reminds us, on the road to redemption it doesn’t matter how many u-turns and detours you take, all that matters is that you reach your destination.
Ammo Dump rating: 9 out of 10 ridiculous scarves
I’ll talk more about this film and others during my radio show. Listen in every Friday afternoon starting at 4:10 on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on WJBC.com or the “iHeartRadio” app on your smart phone. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @ALphaEXray.
Run time: 106 minutes