Beware of any movie in which a major character coughs. Is any movie cliché more obvious? But Danny Collins, as mellow and enjoyable as it is, wallows in clichés and fritters away a powerful real-life premise. It seems that in 1971, John Lennon, post his Beatle years, sent a letter to a then-aspiring British folk singer Steve Tiltson advising him not to worry about accumulating wealth. Lennon included his phone number. Tiltson only saw and heard about the letter 34 years after it was sent. Those bare facts alone contain the seeds of a great movie premise.
Danny Collins, written and directed by Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love, Last Vegas) and starring Al Pacino as an aging mellow rocker in the Neil Diamond mode, goes its own way. It’s about a self-obsessed aging-out charmer of a parent struggling with sobriety and trying too late to establish a relationship with the embittered son (Bobby Cannavale) whom he had sired after a one-night stand with a fan. The son, seething with understandable resentment, wants nothing to with his showy, poor excuse for a dad who comes blowing into a small New Jersey town in a tour bus bearing gifts and promises; his wife (Jennifer Garner) and effusive young daughter (Giselle Eisenberg) struggling with learning disabilities aren’t so sure. Danny Collins isn’t without its low-key pleasures, although surprises, intriguing detours, or unexpected plot twists aren’t among them. Nine John Lennon sure-fire tunes thread through the action and the performances by the three leads are especially good. Then, there’s standout stuff from Christopher Plummer as Collins’ wise, world-weary manager and Annette Bening as an Elizabeth Warren lookalike Hilton hotel manager with whom Collins has a fling. Danny Collins isn’t what it could have been but at very least the actors are terrific and some of the dialogue has a welcome, tart edge.***