Films based on a true story can rarely keep true to the source material. It’s inevitable, and sometimes understandable. Sacrifices have to be made, and as long as the deviations are made for the sake of a greater cinematic experience, without taking away anything vital from the original story, then everything remains copacetic. What about films that create an entire, fictionalized story surrounding one event and vaguely base it on a person. This is where we hit new ground. Cue the “In a world…” narrated opening, because that is exactly what Danny Collins does.
Very loosely based on Liverpool artist Steve Tilston, Danny Collins runs with the event that caused the most reflection in Tilston’s life: Receiving a letter from John Lennon decades after his death. In the film, Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is one of the rock stars of old, akin to the Rolling Stones. Still touring and profiting off of his greatest hits, he feels unfulfilled, but with no inspiration in sight. His manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) tracks down a letter from John Lennon that was suppose to have been given to Danny 40 years ago. The letter was in response to an interview Danny did at the start of his career where he voiced concerns over losing his identity and artistry in the commercialism of the music industry. Lennon gave him all the information to get in contact with him, and Danny was forced to reflect on his current dissatisfaction with his life, and how meeting John Lennon would have changed the course of his life.
Feeling renewed and eager to make a new start, he begins writing music in a Hilton (it’s important you remember it was a Hilton because the film won’t let you forget it) managed by a very cheeky Mary Sinclair (Annette Bening), who playfully rebukes Danny’s advances at every turn. Danny chose a hotel near New Jersey so that he could reunite with his estranged son Tom (Bobby Cannavale), and get to know his daughter-in-law Samantha (Jennifer Garner) and his granddaughter. He quickly learns that second chances for his second act in life will be much harder than he anticipated. Can he change his act this late in life, or is he stuck on the droll repeat of his past accomplishments?
Since this film is essentially a work of fiction, it seems like writer/director Dan Fogelman placed an unnecessary limitation on how far he could take the story. It almost seems like a crutch trying to keep something in the realm of non-fiction when the person whose life it is suppose to draw from didn’t ever really live. At least they didn’t get anywhere close to the caliber of stardom Danny Collins was suppose to have reached. The story had a chance to be more dynamic and energetic than it was, but overall it did a fine job presenting an alternate reality cautionary tale. It had just the right amount of regret, remorse, hope and near-sappy sentimentality. It also didn’t hurt that the film was scored by music from John Lennon, which almost effortlessly blended well with the story.
Lennon isn’t the only musical star of the film because in this talented cast, Al Pacino’s voice shines as bright. Easily one of Pacino’s best film in at least the last decade or so, he showcases his softer side and reminds us of his acting and singing ability, even if sometimes he does come off as cheesy. We can always use a little extra “cheese” in our lives, especially when the message involves self-searching and achieving your dreams, no matter how old you are. Pacino’s portrayal as an aging rock star sustaining himself on his played out hits is without reproach, but the real chemistry is on display when he is playfully flirting with Annette Bening or being fatherly/grandfatherly with Bobby Cannavale and his family. Every scene is played with such authenticity and sincerity that it almost makes you forget the story itself is fiction.
Danny Collins plays like a beautiful song you’ve heard before. Invigorating elements, like the talented lyricist John Lennon making up the brunt of the soundtrack, and a solid performance by Al Pacino, make this factually flimsy, soothsaying scenic trip into a hypothetical scenario enjoyable and inspiring.
RATING: ★★★★★★★(7/10 stars)