Film: “Danny Collins”, as reviewed by Lizzie Shanks
“Being rich and famous isn’t what corrupts your art, only you can do that. Call me. We can discuss this.” That’s what’s scribed in a letter written decades before to the then budding rock star, Danny Collins, by none other than John Lennon and Yoko Ono themselves.
But the message never reached Collins (Al Pacino), now a substance abusing, aged rocker whose financial status and notoriety morphed him to stardom portraying a tragically campy Neil Diamond knock-off, repeating equally tragic choreography nightly to a fan base of licorice-eating groupies turned seniors.
The letter, stumbled upon by Collins’ road manager and best friend, Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer), was finally gifted to him at a ‘surprise’ birthday party thrown by his scantily-clad twenty-something girlfriend – a ridiculous coupling by his own admission.
In the post-party, over-indulged aftermath, Collins sits contemplatively near the pool, his manager by his side with the splay of his passed-out girlfriend on the grass before them like a signpost marking the path taken. He laments what might have happened had he followed Lennon’s advice and called him to discuss the pitfalls of selling out.
Danny Collins, in a moment anointed with cliché yet appreciated anyway, realizing that he hadn’t written a decent song in over thirty years, checks out of his rock star life and into a no frills hotel in blue collar New Jersey. With a Steinway piano crammed into the room and Lennon’s framed letter, he also plans to meet his son for the first time – the grown up progeny of a long ago encounter with a groupie, living nearby. None of this happens before he demonstrates the charm and charisma that made a star of him in the first place – an entertaining flirtation with hotel clerk, Mary, endearingly played by Annette Benning. The relationship looms large with age-appropriate possibility with Mary appearing on the short list of people in his life not actually buying what he’s selling and liking him anyway.
Collins’ son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale), makes the same sales pitch-resistant list, preferring to opt out of any life that includes the father that never was. His ADHD-described granddaughter and pregnant daughter-in-law, Samantha (Jennifer Garner), provide the perfect “in” to repair the damage: Danny pulls strings at a prestigious and expensive NYC alternative school for kids that don’t fit the usual mould, using his money and fame to bump his granddaughter to the top of a long waiting list. On the eve that grandpa is finally triumphing on the family-front after a tour bus-ridden day culminating in a Toys R Us binge, Tom announces that he’s been withholding the fact that he has leukemia from his wife – at least until after the baby is born.
Reminded that life is indeed short, while being stealthily supportive of his son’s cancer treatment, Danny embarks on a last ditch effort on stage, attempting new material reminiscent of more meritorious earlier offerings. In the first of such performance trials, the audience chants relentlessly for one of his absurd, older songs and after he sadly succumbs, he turns to hard partying to numb his pain.
You’d have to be made of stone not to root for the guy, to whistle for him to get up again and give it another shot. To have his son get well, and to actually go out to dinner with Mary at long last, who promises that she will, but only after he performs his new songs. So it happens even if ever so predictably – the discovery that any path leading to love, however messed up and off-course it gets, can’t be wrong.
A full-fledged Renaissance woman, Lizzie Shanks self-describes, with tongue firmly lodged in cheek, as having severe career ADHD. She is a freelance writer, emerging author, and ia Juno Award nominated singer/songwriter, with three critically acclaimed album releases from her years with the band Besharah. She is also an interior designer, and has provided treatment foster care to at-risk youth for over ten years. She is currently working on a new musical project.