“Danny Collins” Movie Review

     Making his feature film directorial debut, Dan Fogelman, the screenwriter whose credits include “Last Vegas” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love”, explores a lot of the same ideas he has written about previously with “Danny Collins”.  Al Pacino stars as the title character, an aging rock star still living the good life while touring the country and playing decades old songs to the delight of his also aging fan base.  When the rock band Nickelback wrote a song about wanting to be rockstar, they were likely referring to living in the now and not thinking about what it would be like living that dream for the better part of four decades.  The years have not been kind to Danny Collins as he finds himself at a sort of crossroads when his friend and manager, Frank (Christopher Plummer), gives him a special gift for his birthday.

     Danny lives in a magnificently sprawling mansion, having reaped the rewards from a highly successful solo career.  The way Fogelman portrays his fame would indicate he’s right in line with greats like Elton John or Billy Joel, artists who today perform to adoring crowds as they relive hits from the 1970s.  As Frank utters during the film, Danny doesn’t live like a human.  He flies where he wants in a private jet and has a high end Mercedes waiting on the run way for him to drive.  He’s set to wed another wife who is half his age and puts down hard liquor and cocaine as if they have only the consequence of drinking a Smart Water.  When his not so surprise birthday party comes to an end, he lays on a lawn chair by the pool, staring at his wife to be who is passed out face down on the ground.  Frank hands him a wrapped gift, which when opened reveals quite a find.  Forty years earlier, John Lennon wrote Danny Collins a letter offering to be a mentor of sorts when Danny was in the early stages of his career and fame.  The letter, framed and preserved by a collector, is being read by Danny for the first time.

     The letter puts life in perspective for Danny and inspires him to make changes in his life.  With a renewed sense of purpose, Danny heads to New Jersey to find his estranged son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale), who was the result of his partying life style and is someone he has never met because the mother didn’t want it that way.  I suppose when someone this rich desires to make a change, those changes have to come slowly and in a way that doesn’t shock the system.  Danny still flies there in a private jet and still has a Mercedes waiting for him when he arrives, but oddly checks into a neighborhood Hilton hotel to the surprise of the employees there.  This creates the opportunity for him to flirt with someone at least closer to his age when he meets Mary (Annette Bening), the hotel manager who seems the least wowed by Danny’s presence compared to the much younger employees at the hotel.

     Danny arrives unannounced at Tom’s house and meets for the first time his sweet as pie wife, Samantha (Jennifer Garner), and his granddaughter, Hope (Giselle Eisenberg).  As you may figure, Tom is not pleased, as there are plenty of reasons why he has preferred that Danny stay out of his family’s life.  Predictably, Danny lays it on thick, using the fact he has an abundance of money and resources to throw at the family’s problems.  He is a near carbon copy of the Michael Douglas character from Fogelman’s “Last Vegas”, who also dumps a younger girl he’s supposed to marry in favor of someone his own age of whom he can actually relate to.  After 40 years of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, the mere presence of a family he helped create inspires him to be a better person, though his acts of kindness are all predicated on his ability to pay for said acts whereas Tom and his family couldn’t afford them otherwise.  It’s as if he thinks he can buy their affection and we know this philosophy comes with a number of lessons to learn.

     Fogelman could easily have taken the well traveled road in which all of these characters fall for Danny’s charms and live happily together by film’s end, but he chose to ignore that overused temptation.  Mary is anything but vulnerable to Danny’s act and builds a protective wall between them almost immediately, which becomes a challenge to Danny throughout the film as he seeks to simply invite her to dinner.  Fortunately, Mary does more to inspire Danny that goes well beyond going out on a date.  As do, Tom and his family, who learn to accept Danny for who he is.  For all the talk of a letter from John Lennon changing him for the better, Fogelman’s screenplay never allows Danny to change who he is.  The characters are given the choice to either accept him, taking the good and the bad, or both will happily go their separate ways. If that means continuing to perform the same decades old songs in front of a packed house instead of writing something new, than so be it.  “Danny Collins” isn’t about a man who needs to change from a professional standpoint.  It’s about a man who needed to discover the importance of knowing that when he leaves the stage, he is now transitioning into the role of a father, grandfather, friend, and an all around good person.  GRADE: B-