What an incredibly well-acted “slice of life” drama awaits in the film “Danny Collins”! Al Pacino’s charm and depth captivated me. I was ready for a has-been debauched old stoner, not for a self-deprecating and self-reflective “heart-of-golder”. Pacino is marvelous. He makes you care about him because of his flaws, not despite of them.
The storyline is all too familiar. A talented young lyricist’s earnestness gives way to selling out for fame and remuneration. Major mistakes are made and regret takes hold. Pacino’s Danny knows that fame and money open doors,but it is not enough. The way these advantages are used is central to underscoring his self-distain.”I haven’t written a song in thirty years. I was the real thing once. I gave up. I’m broken.” He is worldly tired of people’s response to his fame. Yet, Pacino plays Danny as personable and playful,rather than depressive. His funny “I like your lawn” brings laughs, but somehow he seems genuine.He has the performer’s need to please.Drugs are the aged rock star’s crutch. We just put up with his unbuttoned shirt,neck scarf and chest hair. Forget the dye,drink and polish.
Supporting cast members are flawless,too. Christopher Plummer,as manager Frank,doubles as savvy friend and wise sage. Annette Bening is so real in her print blouses and patter that you appreciate how she can keep in character and not outshine the lead because we know she is capable! Her Mary Sinclair is solid and honest,and yet surprised by how smitten she is with Danny’s attention. Jennifer Garner is fresh and different as daughter-in-law Samantha, a role that could have been easy to schlep through. Her facial control and line delivery near perfect. “Shame on you,you missed out on the perfect daughter-in-law” was understated,but heartfelt.Bobby Cannavale has the hardest part. He makes sick, angry and appreciative meld with exasperated, scared and nurturing. He has so many emotions to portray that the viewer’s own rise and fall at roller coaster speed. If the above is not a call to view this movie on the big screen, consider the best performance ever by a first-grader in need of an IEP (Independent Educational Plan).Giselle Eisenberg’s energy exhausts you,but keeps you smiling long after she exits the screen. As the symbolically named “Hope”,I found her spontaneous,and well ~amazing. The backyard- kiddy- pool scene is evocative of every postage-stamp-backyard family. Her answering the front door is adorable and singing “itsey-bitsey spider” and repeating her father’s slow nose-breathing poem will melt every grandparents’heart.
In fact,this film is scene driven often with two people in dialogue. No fancy camera work or scenery, here. The final setting in a doctor’s examination room is a stunner. Down to the tap on the door, we are there director-Dan Fogelman-style.
While the symbolism is a tad overdone,that framed prized letter from John Lennon unites Danny’s progression from awed-desire to letting-it-go gift-giving. Be prepared for good dialogue and snappy humor. “Hey,Sylvia Plath”, “gumming licorice for two hours”, and “that’s fucked-up in a lot of ways” and “wear a shirt with some buttons”,”sweet and weird like I like them” all resonate in a long,but smart script.
The Beatle’s lyrics “love is real” and “Love is wanting to be loved” and Danny’s “Autumn leaves do fall” work as layers on a theme. “I’m walking blind on this road in search of higher ground.Don’t look back,don’t look down” does not seem coying. It fits like the bag of bagels.Danny’s huge tour bus pulling away from a residential New Jersey curb tears off tree limbs and leaves a great frame of Tom Donnelly (Cannavale) amidst twenty bags of Toys R Us detritus. As a sub-theme states “Only you can corrupt your art”. This is a chord this film does not play as Pacino lets go of his past and “lives for today”. A tad schmaltzy,but an actor’s must see.