The script for Danny Collins written by Director Dan Fogelman is so smart and true to life it’s scary at times (such as the accurate portrayal of ADHD), and the fine actors make it shine even more. Loosely based on a true story about a British folk singer, Steve Tilston—whom the movie calls “Danny Collins”—who discovered years later that John Lennon had written a letter to him that was delivered to someone else. The film uses the letter to tell its story about a rock star who, by this time, is aging and performing the same material he has for 30 years. Then his agent (Plummer) surprises him with the letter, and it has an immediate impact on him in a positive sense of straightening up his boozy, drug-filled life and starting to write music again.
Danny remembers the son (Cannavale) he never met, who is now grown and living in New Jersey with a wife (Garner) and child (Eisenberg). The son, Tom Donnelly, has made it clear that he wants nothing to do with his father and wants him to stay away from Samantha, his wife, and their daughter Hope. But Danny is committed to his self-styled rehabilitation, and makes offers Tom can hardly refuse. They go back and forth, with Tom trying desperately to hold onto his anger, and Danny never giving up on his plan. Their interchanges—which include wife and daughter—are both funny and agonizing at the same time. In the midst of it all spunky Hope takes in everything that is being said and voices her opinions in a way that an indulgent father has to listen to.
Danny has rented a room at the local Hilton, where he’s had a grand piano shipped in, clearly intending to work; but he’s not above trying to have a little fun with the all-business hotel manager, Mary (Bening). They get into verbal jousting, and when she finally relents and has some tequila, they actually get close and start sharing their troubles.
The story has many developments on all fronts as Danny progresses and slips backward, and money starts to become an issue. All of this has to be worked out, and Fogelman’s script never lets the viewer down.
Pacino is a master at portraying complex characters with precision and fullness, and Bening is well placed in being his counter force. The performance of Cannavale is at its usual level of excellence, and Garner, who has a less well fleshed out role, still has to convincingly be the go-between in father-son struggles—which she does. Plummer, like Pacino, has a long history of fine performances, and his presence in this film is true to form. The child Giselle Eisenberg steals the scene every time she is on, and I SO appreciated her lines being authentically child-like and not obviously written by an adult. They are so true to life, I wondered if Fogelman was getting that part of the script from his experience with a real child. Giselle clearly has a future in acting if she maintains an interest in it.
I hadn’t expected much from Danny Collins the movie, and was thrilled when it became clear that it was going to be so good. It is fresh, believable in terms of character development, and it maintains suspense throughout. Of course, much of what happens could only occur if at least one character had access to big bucks, but still, it is a fine work of art nevertheless.
An insightful, entertaining look at a modern family’s dilemmas.