Blu-ray Review: Danny Collins

By , Contributor
Sold as something of a romantic comedy, the Al Pacino vehicle Danny Collins (on Blu-ray and DVD via Universal on June 30) turns out to be rather mawkish melodrama. Inspired very loosely by real events, screenwriter Dan Fogelman’s directorial debut stars Pacino as the titular aging pop superstar. Once a promising young singer-songwriter, Danny lost his artistic drive and settled for being a showbiz hack. His biggest hit, a “Sweet Caroline” clone called “Hey Baby Doll,” seems to be the only thing his audiences want to hear. He’s going through the motions and, now in his 70s, his coke-and-booze lifestyle isn’t helping matters.

Something remarkable is brought it Danny’s attention by his manager, Frank (Christopher Plummer). After reading a 1971 magazine interview with Danny, none other than John Lennon personally wrote a letter of support and encouragement to the blossoming young troubadour. The problem is, Lennon sent the letter to the magazine’s offices and it never reached Danny. Frank came into possession of the letter, had it framed, and has now gifted it to its rightful owner. Danny, a Lennon fanatic, is understandably floored by the knowledge that his long-deceased idol was actually a fan. What could’ve transpired had Danny been able to contact Lennon and take him up on the offer to collaborate? Maybe Danny would’ve developed into more than a preening hack who unhappily rakes in money from oldies shows and endless “greatest hits” reissues.

The upside of the Lennon angle is that we get to hear quite a few of the late ex-Beatle’s solo classics on the soundtrack. From hits like “Imagine” to deeper cuts like “Working Class Hero,” the music of John Lennon peppers the film. It’s not always a good fit for the story and Danny himself never even really reflects on his alleged love for the legendary artist. But it’s a somewhat unique element, considering any Beatle-related original music is expensive to license and is seldom featured in movies. The long-lost letter spurs Danny to reevaluate his life. He moves into a Hilton in New Jersey, strikes up a relationship with the suitably wary manager (Annette Bening), and sets out to connect with the son he never met. Tom (Bobby Cannavale) wants nothing to do with his biological father. He’s got plenty of problems of his own, not the least of which being a life-threatening illness.

Danny Collins wants to be far more inspiring than it really is. Pacino turns in a solid but ultimately predictably hammy performance. He even warbles a few of Danny’s tunes, including a new, introspective piece he struggles mightily to write. Having cancelled his lucrative tour dates (much to the consternation of his manager and, presumably, his backing band and road crew), his plan is to reconnect with his roots. He books a date at a local bar, but when it comes time to unveil his new song he cops out (the song itself is actually mediocre at best). Most of the film finds Danny attempting to right his past wrongs with Tom. He meets a warmer welcome from Tom’s wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner) and daughter, the ADD-afflicted Hope (Giselle Eisenberg). The whole thing gets sappier than it probably should. That doesn’t keep it from being moderately entertaining (though entirely inessential).

Universal offers a very fine technical presentation of Danny Collins on Blu-ray. Steve Yedlin’s (Carrie remake, Looper) cinematography looks absolutely sterling here. The audio is presented as a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The music sounds great and John Lennon fans will love cranking up songs like “Instant Karma” in lossless surround sound.

The biggest drawback to the Blu-ray Combo Pack (which includes a standard DVD and Digital HD copy) is the lack of worthwhile extra features. Instead of a featurette to shed some light on the film’s real-life inspiration (singer-songwriter Steve Tilston), we get an EPK piece that is essential nothing more than a trailer with a couple cast and crew interview clips edited in. “Danny Collins Album Covers Through the Years” is a still gallery displaying the covers of the fictional singer’s fictional albums. Match the photoshopped image of Pacino to the corresponding era of his career for a minute or two of fun.

Although Al Pacino has some fun in Danny Collins, we’re never really convinced (especially given the so-so quality of the film’s original songs) that Danny Collins has the soul of an artist. As a result, it makes it harder to root for Danny to pull out of his career slump.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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