Film Review: Danny Collins

You’re a musician and John Lennon writes you a letter. Only he doesn’t know where you live, so he posts it to a mutual address to be passed onto you, only this is an actual letter from actual John Lennon, so it’s kept, hidden, instead of delivered and 40 years pass before it finally reaches you. It’s a clever idea and potentially the start of an interesting story. And best of all? It’s actually true, Danny Collins is a folk singer called Steve Tilston and John Lennon really did write him a letter.

And it’s a great opening idea, the letter gives Danny Collins the ability to go narratively where ever it likes, to tell whatever story it wants. The only thing is, the letter turns out to be such a non event in the film, it’s history and significance so glossed over and ignored, that it felt more than just forgotten. It felt like false advertising. I wanted them to make more of the letter and not use it as a brief and passing door into a plot that has been constantly rolled out and recycled throughout film history. Danny Collins is not a film about music, or the words of a Beatle, but rather a simple tale of seeing and finding the important things in life. The bigger picture of it all. John Lennon simply provides the epiphany.

Al Pacino - Danny Collins

This revelation is centred on Al Pacino as Danny Collins; he is in virtually every shot and while everything looks like it should actually add together to make him completely wrong for the part, to lower the tone and almost feel foolish it somehow doesn’t. It is very much a case that everything is so clichéd and bad that it comes together to form an exquisite clarity that is totally fitting and right. Firstly he cannot sing, so when he does it either comes across like the shy parent forced to sing a lullaby to a sleeping child (his voice is spoken and waspy rather than lyrically in tune) or the old cruise ship crooner singing bad karaoke. Secondly, he looks like a mixture of Costa del Sol sun-tan and the grandparent trying to act cool around the visiting grandkids, sneaking them sweets, whilst not realising they’re laughing at him not with him. And lastly, he looks like he’s having too much fun playing the part. That this is the retirement jolly, a Busman’s holiday. It shouldn’t work. You should walk out wondering how his career has gone so badly wrong. But you don’t because he’s perfect. He bad on paper but brilliant on film.

Even more surprising than the adverse reaction to Pacino is just how he manages to lead the film and make it funny. It’s more than a simple comedy with a regurgitated plot, it actually has a heart and charm that draws you in, and taken by the hand by Pacino leads you through it’s story with a constant smile, a funny joke and a sense that it always knew where it was trying to go or what it was trying to say. Even if it’s a little formulaic and predictable at times.

Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner & Giselle Eisenberg - Danny Collins

While Pacino dictates where it goes, it’s the relationships that his character forms with those around him that truly win you over and provide the films real strength. With Annette Bening he is flirtatiously endearing, Bobby Cannavale balances his blind optimism with frustration and humility and even if you start to take him out of the equation, things never fall apart. Giselle Eisenberg is infectious, while Josh Peck and Melissa Benoist, who could easily be lifted from any teen rom-com, are still exactly what the film needs to act as a route away from the introverted view the plot often takes and ensure that the film constantly feels light, and fun and friendly.

Whilst the cast is sit wonderfully around Pacino’s central pivot and create a tone that is vibrant and inviting, it’s Christopher Plummer’s performance that steals the supporting cast show. Only noticeable from time to time and not really integral to the story, his character is the polar opposite to anybody else: grumpy, stoic and opinionated but my God is his funny. He had me laughing more than anybody else. His views and lines do feel comically aggressive at times but are delivered with such precision and timing that they fit into the overall tone and story perfectly. They are almost needed, as if the film uses them to breathe. You cannot imagine them not being there and you instantly forget that it’s all scripted and rehearsed because you just sit there laughing.

A Pacino & Christopher Plummer - Danny Collins

Sadly though, while the individual parts and relationships in the film are wonderful, combining to make a truly inoffensive and likeable story that doesn’t feel overly hyper real, stereotypical or clichéd, as I said at the beginning, you cannot get away from the fact that the film is slightly fake in the bigger picture. It’s not really a story about a musician getting a letter from John Lennon, or about how that advice would, could and should have changed his life. It’s just a simple story about family, relationships, and the material objects in life. It’s brings nothing really new to the idea of blood being thicker than water and honouring your responsibilities, ideas which are seen repeated time and again in movie after movie.

I feel I should be laughing at Danny Collins, that this is some how a parody or a joke; but I can’t; because Danny Collins is a surprisingly enjoyable film. It means to do you no harm and while it has problems: struggling to say anything new while filling your ears with bad karaoke that would never sell the copies it claims, it also never hurts you. It’s survives because it never feels tedious or boring, but it does make you laugh. As a film, it’s the cinematic definition of comfortable, and like all things comfortable, you soon forget them as they pass unnoticed through your life.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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