Pacino plays the eponymous lead, an ageing rock star who can now be found performing at stadiums across the world, churning out the same hits he has been for four decades, to a loyal fan-base made up mostly of middle-aged women. When not on stage, he’s round the back of it, snorting cocaine and clinging on to his youth with a wife half his age (Katarina Cas). However when his long-serving manager Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) gets his hand on a letter written to his client back in 1971 by John Lennon – which had been hidden away by a journalist all these years – it changes Danny’s life.
The musician realises that he’s lost sight of what matters most; the music. So in a brash moment he decides to cancel his tour, and move in to a hotel in New Jersey to start writing new music for the first time in decades. While there he has an ulterior motive, to track down his long-lost son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) who now lives with his pregnant wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner) and young daughter Hope (Giselle Eisenberg). Though reluctant to give him the time of day following years of abandonment, Danny is determined to win his son round and finally form a relationship, which is a similar technique he uses on the hotel manager Mary Sinclair (Annette Bening).
Though deviating carelessly away from any sense of realism, it doesn’t have an impact on this comedically inclined piece, where being naturalistic is something of an aside, as a film that revels in a heightened reality, overtly – and endearingly – cinematic. Though mawkish in parts, opening itself up heavily to cynicism, sometimes with pictures of this ilk you just have to suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in the tale at hand, and in this case, that’s easily done. However what is a little cringeworthy, is the contrived implementing of John Lennon’s music. Though hearing his songs is never a bad thing, and of course given the narrative it makes perfect sense to do so – it’s more how they’re used, and the precise moments they kick in. Like when he receives the letter and Imagine starts, or when he first meets his son and Beautiful Boy begins. Come on, now.
Talking of the music, one thing that should’ve been avoided, is writing the supposed hit song that Danny Collins is most renowned for. It’s rubbish, to be honest, and having such a weak number that is supposed to have defined his career, just makes it that little bit harder to invest in the role at the hand and his respective tale. Nonetheless, Pacino is remarkable in the lead role, and perfect casting too. To play this role you need somebody with that infectious, inherent charisma, and also that sense of unpredictability, a volatility of sorts, which is where the venerable actor comes into his element. That being said, It’s Cannavale who steals the show, turning in a deeply nuanced display, and providing the film with its emotional core.
Fogelman’s production makes for somewhat undemanding viewing, but of the best kind. It’s charming when it wants to be and moving too. But also funny, poignant and entertaining. Without a doubt this picture is flawed in parts, but for the most part the filmmaker achieves exactly what he sets out to achieve, which deems this debut feature something of a success.