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Santa Maria Sun / Film

This weeks review

'Danny Collins' is heartfelt and charming




Where is it playing?: Downtown Centre of San Luis Obispo

What's it rated?: R

What's it worth?: $7.00 (Anna)

What's it worth?: $7.00 (Glen)

User Rating: 0.00 (0 Votes)

Al Pacino is Danny Collins, an over-the-hill rock star dissatisfied with his vacuous lifestyle, rote performances, and dwindling relevance. When his best friend and manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) finds a letter penned to Danny by John Lennon in 1971 and gives it to him on his birthday, Danny is inspired to change his life. He leaves his L.A. palace and moves into a New Jersey Hilton with a grand piano and begins to involve himself in his estranged son Tom’s (Bobby Cannavale) life, meeting Tom’s wife, Samantha (Jennifer Garner), and daughter, Hope (a precocious and adorable Giselle Eisenberg). Meanwhile, Danny’s trying to spark a romance with Hilton manager Mary (Annette Benning). (106 min.)

Glen: Is redemption possible? That’s the question at the heart of Danny Collins, and the answer could be predictably cheesy, but instead this sweet-natured film manages to make enough unexpected choices for the melodramatic material to eclipse its emotional sappiness. Sure, Danny could—after a few hiccups—reconnect with his estranged son, Tom. He could write his new songs and his adoring fans will simply accept the new him. He could give up his drug- and booze-filled lifestyle and start anew. And he could win Mary, the “age-appropriate” girl, with his newfound maturity. All that could happen, and perhaps we expect it to happen from the pen of screenwriter and first-time director Dan Fogelman (Cars; Fred Claus; Bolt; Tangled; Cars 2; Crazy, Stupid, Love; The Guilt Trip; Last Vegas). Instead, Danny’s way back is littered with false starts, failures, and unexpected complications. The movie’s still sappy, but the characters are likable, the soundtrack is terrific, and the ending is open enough to feel real. I have to admit it: I liked this film. It’s got a lot of heart and a lot of charm.

Anna: I thought I had this movie figured out pretty quickly but was pleasantly surprised that Fogelman didn’t make all of the predictable, sappy choices I thought were coming. Because of that, Danny seems like a much more realistic character, one who makes mistakes and has to live with the consequences. Over and over in the film Danny is called “a ridiculous man,” which is very true. He has his signature look, complete with chest hair on display and thin, colorful scarves wrapped under his jacket lapel. He takes a gigantic tour bus down the suburban streets of New Jersey and never gives up on getting a dinner date with the hotel manager, Mary. He’s pretty ridiculous, but also charming and goofy, inevitably winning over everyone he encounters one way or another. Is it possible to change yourself? Sure. But is it easy? No, definitely not. We see Danny struggle somewhere in the middle of reinvention and living a life he’s unhappy with. 

Glen: Another big element of the film is Danny’s sense of failure and selling out. The film opens with a young Danny (Eric Michael Roy, who bears a strong resemblance to a young Pacino) being interviewed (by a bearded Nick Offerman) and told how great he is and how great his music will be. The future is nothing like the naïve, Dylanesque kid imagines. Instead, after a successful early career playing songs written for him, in his twilight years Danny’s resigned to playing these sappy old hits to crowds of elderly fans. He’s become a parody of himself, and he’s disgusted and no longer feels like a real artist. I imagine this will connect with a lot of middle-aged viewers whose big dreams in youth have slid away to resignation. Most of us live happy lives, I hope, but how many of us have succeeded in the ways we once imagined we would in our youth? Even a big pop star like Danny Collins is dissatisfied, and that universal theme makes this character relatable even though few of us enjoy his lavish lifestyle. No, money and fame do not buy happiness, and Danny’s attempts to reconnect with his estranged son during this late period of his life is why this film has such an emotional punch. 

Anna: He certainly charms his way into people’s good graces, using his money and fame to help him along the way. He isn’t a talentless artist, but one that has lost his originality and eagerness. His son, Tom, is doing everything he can to be the man his father never was, a good father and role model. His pregnant wife, Samantha, and adorable yet exhausting daughter, Hope, are endearing characters who give Danny more opportunity to try to win his son over. It really is a very sweet movie with plenty of heart and doesn’t drip with predictable sugary plot lines. It’s touching and funny, and the soundtrack is killer. Overall, it’s definitely worth the price of a matinee.

Split Screen is written by Sun contributor and New Times Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at