Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is a tired and aged pop singer, still swiveling his arthritic hips in the direction of the slutty octogenarians in the front row of his sold-out concerts. But in the quiet moments backstage it’s just him and his girdle, and it’s taking more and more coke to get him to sing the saccharine lyrics of his greatest hits.
His best friend and manager (Christopher Plummer) is delighted to present him with a birthday gift – a letter to him from John Lennon that went undelivered for 40 years. The letter’s a great find but ultimately it makes Danny feel like shit. He knows he’s sold out. Now he also feels like he’s wasted his life, and his talent. So like any elderly rock star having a lightbulb moment, the takes off to New Jersey, where the grown son he never met lives (Bobby Canavale) and the hotel managers are oh-so-fine (Annette Bening).
The first trailer I saw for this movie made me want to give it a miss, but a second look caught my attention. The quips sounded smart. They had good patter. Turns out, it’s written and directed by Dan Fogelman, who wrote Crazy, Stupid Love, which wasn’t half bad. And neither is this.
The problem is, you know what’s going to happen. You know exactly what’s going to happen. You know not only the outcome, but the probable trajectory. But thanks to a surprisingly stirring performance by Al Pacino, who’s backed up by a really solid supporting cast. This movie just worked for me. Al Pacino was ON. For years now he’s thrived on doing a bad SNL-type impersonation of himself, and it turned me off, and away. But he IS Danny Collins. This movie isn’t as good as The Wrestler, or Birdman, but the casting reminded me of those movies, hooking up the perfect actor for a role that feels tailor-made for them. It was fun to watch him embrace the dirty old man. He lays it on thick and Annette Bening keeps scraping it off and flinging it back at him. But it’s earnest. It’s fun. Pacino and Bening charm each other, and us in the process. They are relaxed and easy. And so is the movie. It’s not fluff, exactly, but nor does it have the gravitas of The Wrestler. It’s just a really likeable film, and i think it may have just made Al Pacino a movie star again.