A while ago I was writing a gig preview for a national newspaper, and the subject of a musician who eventually received a letter from John Lennon piqued my interest.
A great story thought I, and that was that. But now, about a year later, we have Danny Collins, the new movie starring Al Pacino as the eponymous musician inspired by that same story.
Collins may be in the autumn of his years, but this coke-snorting, booze addled pensioner has charisma to burn.
Everywhere he goes, fans are won over by his presence. Well most of them anyway.
Christopher Plummer is on top form as his old friend and manager – the Arthur to Pacino’s Larry Sanders if you like.
The truth is, Pacino can’t really hold a note, but it scarcely matters. He’s as mesmerising now as when he made his screen debut more than 40 years ago. And while in many of his films he shone brighter than many of the cast, here there is a level playing field thanks to the presence of Plummer and the ever brilliant Annette Bening.
The latter shines as of the manager of a hotel where Collins makes his base. If Alan Partridge were a fading Italian American rock star, then this would be a variation of his story. Yet one of the films* it reminded me of most was Music and Lyrics, the much maligned Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore vehicle from a few years ago.
Hugh wasn’t much of a vocalist either, but he carried off the part of a has-been singer songwriter from an 80s pop band with skill. And many of the songs in that film were a lot better.
(*The other was the excellent Michael Douglas movie Wonder Boys. Another fine study of a fading artiste facing a mid to late life crisis.)
Back to Danny Collins, and after taking up residence in Ms Bening’s hotel, and striking up an uneasy friendship with her, Collins tries to make amends with the son he never met, his wife (Jennifer Garner) and hyper grand daughter. This forms the backbone of the story, and makes up some of the most touching scenes.
Danny doesn’t just have to build all the bridges he burned without even meeting his offspring, but is dealt a major blow when said son drops a bombshell.
I was given a private screening of sorts, largely thanks to the fact I was the only one in the cinema one gloomy Monday lunchtime. (There is perhaps nothing sadder than a film playing to an empty cinema just for the sake of fulfilling a contractual obligation. What a waste of power and energy.)
I had walked out of previous movie Spy about five minutes early so I could catch the start of this. Always a gamble, especially if the film you watch second is the worst than the first. I’m glad I made that modest sacrifice, because Danny Collins is light years ahead of that weak Melissa McCarthy vehicle.
It’s reassuring to know that in these youth obsessed days, a megastar like Al Pacino can still cut the mustard, even if I was the only one watching that screening.
Naming a movie after an unknown character is always a gamble, and it doesn’t always work. You only have to see Pacino’s Bobby Deerfield disaster to realise that.
However, given the fact Danny Collins is omnipresent in this film, his smug face adorning billboards and a tour bus, it seems like a obvious fit.
It might not bust the proverbial block, but this is a film with a massive heart, and thanks to some excellent performances it is bound to become a beloved classic in the months and years that follow.
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