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Danny Collins – Review


Release Date: 29 May 2015
Director: Dan Fogelman
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Cast: Al Pacino - Annette Bening - Jennifer Garner - Christopher Plummer - Josh Peck



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Posted March 30, 2015 by

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Danny Collins Review:

There are several fundamental plot flaws that keep Dan Fogelman’s new movie Danny Collins from being as good as it might be. There are several veterans actors who prevent it from being as maudlin and sappy as it threatens to be. All in all, things mostly even out.

The premise, as a brief closing credits sequence suggests, is based on the actual story of English folk singer Steve Tilston, who discovered forty years after the fact that John Lennon had reached out to him via an undelivered letter when Tilston was a very young up-and-comer. Fogelman, who wrote and directed, supposes that the young singer would grow up to be wildly successful singing other people’s songs. This would lead to physical and spiritual decay. The discovery of the letter would then prod him to take stock, and try to create original music again.

This is a good premise, and had Fogelman stuck to the artistic part of the story, he might have had something special. But he does not. He begins layering domestic melodrama atop Danny’s dyed-black head. At first, this domestic drama seems reasonable. Danny has a grown son he has never met. That son, Tom, harbors a lot of anger toward his invisible dad. But Tom also has a pregnant wife and a bouncing-off-the-walls precocious daughter named Hope who would greatly benefit from a state-of-the-art school which could attend to her AD-HD. Of course Danny, with his wealth and contacts, can provide this. This is beginning to become a flawed story, but so far, so good.

Then, things go off the rails. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) No sooner has Danny rescued Hope (and Fogelman does have fun with that name), than Tom lets it slip that he may be dying of leukemia. Or maybe not. They’ll know in about a month. He hasn’t even told his pregnant wife. This is the kind of mawkish plot contrivance that drives an audience spit out their nine dollar Cherry Coke. Though the development of the story from that point forward is reasonably executed, there’s no way to recover from this.

There is something vaguely off-putting about these types of stories in which an abandoning figure returns seeking redemption, primarily because said figure is almost always very rich. Danny says several times that he knows that saving Hope or providing financially for the family will not make up for his abandonment. But the movie seems to want us to believe that is not the case – that with enough drop-bys, bagels, and front row concert seats, in fact Danny can have his family again. I suppose everyone will have their own opinion on how true that is, but for me, it seems weak. And it is so colored by Danny’s wealth that it also seems a little obnoxious. I would love to see an absentee father try to rebuild a relationship with the family he never knew without the benefit of a big checkbook.

If the story is weak, there are good things which buoy the movie considerably. The cast boasts several first-rate performances by veteran actors who seem very much at ease with their roles. First and foremost, Al Pacino as Danny gives his best performance since 1997’s Donnie Brasco. Danny is not all that different from Lefty. Both are tired old men who realize that their lives never really worked out the way they were supposed to. The fact that Danny has great material success does little to quiet his demons. He still has the showmanship that a star like Danny needs, but he also is very much aware of what a joke he has become. Pacino shows glimpses of the overcooked personality he has become famous for when it is appropriate, but this is a much more restrained and nuanced performance.

And he is ably supported by the likes of Annette Benning as the down-to-earth hotel manager he tries to seduce, Bobby Cannavale, handling the difficult back-and-forth required for Tom, and especially the glorious Christopher Plummer, as Danny’s seen-it-all manager and friend. The scene in which he delivers a piano to an unwilling Tom is joy to behold.

And when all else fails, Fogelman wisely turns to the story’s inspiration itself, peppering the proceedings with a healthy dose of John Lennon music. That is almost never a bad idea.

The nature of the father-son relationship may be the single most popular theme in American film. You can find movie after movie that explores the bond throughout every genre. Danny Collins confronts it head-on. But it doesn’t do a great job with it. Twenty years ago, a different writer-director, Robert Benton, tackled the same issue in his understated and underrated Nobody’s Fool. The father, Sully (Paul Newman) in that movie, does not in fact have a boatload of cash to buy his way into his son’s life. His son Peter (Dylan Walsh), isn’t dying. That movie is better at the father-son thing.

Now, if Fogelman had just stuck to the artist looking for redemption, he would have been playing in a different arena, and he might have pulled it off better.


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Jonathan Eig
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    You had me at “Annette Benning” and “Christoopher Plummer.” But boy does that plot sound sappy and overwrought. Not sure John Lennon would approve.


      i think Dan Fogelman the director would have benefitted from a better screenplay than the one provided by Dan Fogelman the writer.

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