On screen, looking like Keith Richards’ bright-eyed, bushy-tailed life coach and partner in debauchery, Al Pacino is a man whose aura screams, “I love the ’70s!” Meaning: his own. Turning 75 next month, Pacino has a high old time in the slight, moderately charming Danny Collins, and he bounces off plenty of good and great co-stars, among them Annette Bening (as the New Jersey hotel manager he’s hot for) and Bobby Cannavale, calmly effective as the estranged son of the aging rock star of the title.
Snorting cocaine, shacked up in luxury with a cheating girlfriend half his age, Pacino’s Danny Collins is a man desperately in need of a reckoning, a personal Waterloo or, you know, some sort of … plot device. Inspired by the little-known true story of British folk artist Steve Tilston and a letter he once received from John Lennon, writer-director Dan Fogelman concocts a fable in which Danny comes into a possession of an undelivered fan letter Lennon wrote him decades earlier. This is the sign for Danny to seize the days he has left, to reconnect with his distant son (Cannavale), the son’s valiant wife (Jennifer Garner) and their lovely, hyperactive daughter (Giselle Eisenberg), who surely would benefit from an expensive private school education if only she had a grandfather she never knew she had to pay for it.
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Christopher Plummer, wearing the sort of hipster hat the forthcoming Noah Baumbach film While We’re Young makes fun of, provides advice, counsel and exquisite timing as Danny’s longtime manager. Near his son’s house in suburban New Jersey, Danny holes up in the local Hilton run by Bening’s sensible yet radiant Mary. It’s a push-pull relationship, with Mary initially fending off the wolf-in-rock-god’s clothing. Danny must prove himself worthy of her, and of everyone confined too long to the outskirts of his life.
Fogelman wrote Crazy. Stupid, Love. whose punctuation I can never forgive. That film’s warring strains of glibness, feeling, wit and hollowness return in Danny Collins as well. There’s a delayed-secret hitch in the narrative that hijacks the movie, for better or worse. You don’t have to believe any of it to enjoy a lot of it, however. Fogelman asks very little of his protagonist, other than for him to learn how to be less of a self-centered jerk. The actors skate through it all with aplomb. Among them, as a star-struck young hotel desk clerk, is Whiplash alum Melissa Benoist, who has a warming smile that’s a perfect generational bookend to Bening’s.
Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer, Melissa Benoist, Josh Peck.
Writer-director: Dan Fogelman.
A Bleecker Street Media release. Running time: 106 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, drug use. In Miami-Dade: Aventura, South Beach; in Broward: Gateway.