Alter cocker rocker: Danny Collins ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 4, 2015)

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Al Pacino may be one of the finest actors of his generation, but he cannot carry a tune in a bucket. Now, if you can live with that, his new vehicle Danny Collins is likely to leave you with a smile on your face, and a song in your…well, erm…with a smile on your face.

Now picture Pacino as geriatric rock star Danny Collins. Danny, whose heyday was in the 1970s, still indulges in the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle (though he’s beginning to look a bit peaked). He makes his grand entrance in a manner akin to the protagonist of the 2013 Italian film The Great Beauty (my review), feted by well-wishers and hangers-on at a wild and decadent birthday bash thrown in his honor. There is ample evidence that Danny has done well; judging by his opulent mansion, and his hot young trophy fiancée (currently shitfaced and passed out on the edge of the pool).

Yet, there is Something Missing. These nifty trappings came at a steep price…his Integrity (oh, the humanity). When Danny burst onto the scene back in the day, he was a gifted young singer-songwriter. But “gifted” doesn’t pay the bills. Eventually, he had a breakthrough hit, but it was a Neil Diamond-ish singalong he didn’t compose. So he went the way of Elvis; becoming more of a “showman” than an “artist”. He’s about to get the icing on this bittersweet cake. His longtime manager (Christopher Plummer) gifts him with a handwritten letter from John Lennon, praising Danny’s work and offering to mentor him. Here’s the rub: the 40 year-old note, sent c/o Danny’s first management, was never passed on to him; it was sold to a collector.

And so Danny’s game of “what if?” is afoot, and he hits the road sans the usual entourage (to the chagrin of his manager, who is anxious about Danny’s upcoming string of tour dates), in search of his long-lost Muse (ah, the luxuries of the creative class) What ensues is like Searching for Sugarman…in reverse. In that 2013 documentary, a film maker tracks down a talented American singer-songwriter who released two obscure LPs in the 70s, then dropped out of the biz. Unbeknownst to the artist, he had become a superstar in South America over the decades, based solely on the two LPs (with ignorance being bliss, he kept his integrity). Danny, on the other hand, knows he is a superstar, yet yearns to “find” and restore his integrity.

This is the directorial debut for Dan Fogelman, who also scripted. Despite some jarring tonal shifts,  affable supporting performances from Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner and Bobby Cannavale, coupled with one of Pacino’s better turns of recent years, wins the day. It doesn’t hurt to have a bevy of great Lennon tunes on the soundtrack. And as long as Al doesn’t quit his day job, our ears remain safe.

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