Synopsis: An aging rock star decides to change his life when he discovers a 40-year old letter written to him by John Lennon.
Release Date: April 3, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Comedy, Drama
Screenwriter Dan Fogelman has had a pretty good run of success over the last few years, penning the scripts to children’s movies like Tangled and Cars as well as writing movies for grown-ups such as Crazy, Stupid, Love. and Last Vegas. Finally, he gets the chance to try his hand at directing his newest script, the rock and roll dramedy Danny Collins.
Danny Collins stars Al Pacino (Scarface) as, yep, Danny Collins, an aging rock star who has spent the last thirty years of his life singing the same old songs to sold-out crowds. For his birthday, Danny’s manager Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer from Beginners) gives him a forty-year-old letter written to Danny from his musical idol, John Lennon, a letter that was never delivered. In the letter, Lennon tells Danny that money and fame can’t change his music, only he can. The message inspires Danny to cancel his latest tour and change around the priorities in his life – including reconnecting with his estranged son, Tom (Chef‘s Bobby Cannavale). Tom is less than thrilled to see the father who left him when he was a child, and is even less excited to let Danny be a part of the lives of his wife, Samantha (Jennifer Garner from Dallas Buyers Club) and daughter, Hope (Giselle Eisenberg from A Most Violent Year). With the help of a flirtatious-yet-coy hotel manager that he meets named Mary (American Beauty‘s Annette Bening), Danny tries to mend fences with Tom, find a more fulfilling creative outlet for his music, and maybe – just maybe – find a little love of his own.
There’s an interesting backstory behind Danny Collins. The premise is essentially a true story; it was based on the experience of a British folk singer named Steve Tilson who pondered the effects of wealth and fame on his songwriting in an interview with a publication called Zig Zag in 1971. In 2005, Tilson was asked to authenticate a letter written to him by John Lennon that was bought by a collector. Tilson had no idea that the letter even existed. The real letter shared the same message as the one in the movie; that a musician can be rich and famous without compromising his art. Dan Fogelman remembered the story and turned it into the setup of Danny Collins.
Danny Collins isn’t a typical rock and roll movie. The music plays an important part, but that’s not all that the film is about. Fogelman’s strength as a writer combined with the talented cast of actors humanizes the characters and, even though there is no real protagonist or antagonist, there’s plenty of conflict and struggle. Overall, it’s just charmingly entertaining, filled with likeable characters that leave the audience rooting for a resolution that will make every one of them better off in the end. Danny Collins is a pure dramedy, tugging at the heartstrings while simultaneously tickling the funny bone.
The first thing that is apparent about Danny Collins is how much chemistry Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer have together. In the birthday party scene where Frank gives Danny the Lennon letter, the two veteran actors go back and forth like the old friends that they are portraying in the film. However, it becomes clear as the film goes on that Pacino has this chemistry with everyone – with Annette Bening as they flirt, with Bobby Cannavale through their awkward silences, even with Jennifer Garner as she is torn between her husband and her estranged father-in-law. Soon, the interactions between the other members of the cast become engaging and engrossing as well – even the flirtations of a couple of minor hotel employees, played by Melissa Benoist (Whiplash) and Josh Peck (Red Dawn), are fun to watch. The entire ensemble in Danny Collins has chemistry, what the film jokingly refers to as “patter,” and it’s a big testament to Fogelman’s eye for casting.
It should come as no surprise that the musical soundtrack plays a huge part in Danny Collins. What is somewhat surprising is that it includes songs written and performed by John Lennon himself. Through producer Jessie Nelson’s connection with Lennon’s ex-wife and estate exhibitor, Yoko Ono, Dan Fogelman was able to secure the use of nine Lennon songs, including “Imagine,” “Working Class Hero,” and “Nobody Told Me.” No Beatles stuff, but good and familiar material that helps to tell the story nonetheless. Given that Lennon is an important absentee character in the movie, his voice and music act as almost a guiding light to the character of Danny.
There are also a pair of important original songs in Danny Collins. The first is a song called “Hey Baby Doll” that typifies the famous cartoon-performing Danny. Written by Ciaran Gribban (the lead vocalist for INXS who also wrote songs for Killing Bono) and his musical director Greg Agar, the song is a Neil Diamond sing-along crowd pleaser along the lines of “Sweet Caroline.” The other important original is a composition called “Don’t Look Down,” a Leonard Cohen sounding ballad written by pop star Ryan Adams and big-name producer Don Was that Mary, the hotel manager, is able to coax out of Danny as he goes through his musical midlife crisis.
It’s also worth noting that Al Pacino actually handles his own vocals for the film, and he sounds pretty good, too. There are a few other odds-and-ends songs here and there, but the Lennon songs and the original Danny Collins tunes make up the backbone of Danny Collins.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Dan Fogelman
- Producer(s): Nimitt MankadJessie Nelson
- Screenwriter(s): Dan Fogelman
- Cast: Al PacinoChristopher PlummerJennifer Garner Babby CannavaleAnnette BeningMelissa BenoistJosh PeckGiselle Eisenberg
- Editor(s): Julie Monroe
- Cinematographer: Steve Yedlin
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Theodore Shapiro
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA