Wednesday, May 13, 2015

'Danny Collins' (2015) directed by Dan Fogelman

Danny Collins is the kind of movie you end up watching on a long haul flight when you've run out of things. It's not so much bad as unremarkable, aiming and succeeding at creating a mild diversion. It's a curiously tranquillised flavour of art; broadly competent, safe and with a dopily dog-like desire to please.

The story is developed from a real-life "and finally" news tidbit. In 1971 British folk singer Steve Tilston was interviewed in an obscure magazine in which he bemoaned the toxic effect money has on artistry. John Lennon read the article, sent Tilston an encouraging letter and invited him to chat on the phone. The courier, recognising the letter's value as a collector's item, nicked it. 34 years later Tilston finally learned about the letter's contents, leading to a moment of reflection on how his life may have changed had it reached him.

Danny Collins grabs this news nugget and runs with it. The obscure folk singer becomes the eponymous Collins (Al Pacino). After a promising start in the early 70s, Collins has morphed from Bob Dylan into Barry Manilow - spending his nights arthritically gyrating his hips to auditoriums packed with grey-haired old ladies. Sure he's rich, popular and successful - but is he happy?

He is not. It turns out that a fleet of luxury cars, a palatial house, a mountain of coke, lakes of booze and a zoned out bimbo girlfriend induce intense existential fatigue. Truly, the woes of this insanely rich celebrity are practically Shakespearian. A capper is put on things when Collins' agent Frank (Christopher Plummer) surprises him with the letter from John Lennon. This lights a fire under Danny, and he resolves to a) clean up his act, b) write some new music and c) reconcile with his estranged son (Bobby Cannavale).

This all happens in broadly predictable dramatic strokes, the film tossing in an adorable moppet with a medical condition, a weepy-of-the-week cancer scare and a flirtatious but chaste romance with Annette Bening. The film settles on a quietly conservative morality early on, chiding Collins for his ostentatious materialism and treating it as an enormous development when he eventually settles for regular brand materialism.

Fair play to Al Pacino though. You'd imagine that casting him as an egocentric rockstar would result in overacting so strong it'd figure highly on the Nick Cage-sacle. In fact he severely reins it in, playing the character surprisingly quietly and realistically, with big heaping dollops of pathos in his hangdog expression and slumped posture. In fact, he's so willing to look like a tasteless idiot that he becomes a bit Alan Partridge-y, not helped by his long-term residence in a hotel and flirtations with the staff.

Broadly speaking, everyone else in the film acquits themselves well. Then again, Christopher Plummer and Annette Bening aren't going to let you down. Bobby Cannavale impresses with a likeably stolid, Italian-American portrait of masculinity, as does Jennifer Garner as his wife - who has the stressed surburban mother role locked down these days. Nobody's going to win any awards for this, but hey, it's a paycheque right?

But it's not an actor or director who comes out of Danny Collins looking best - it's Hilton Hotels and Mercedes-Benz. Product placement is  one of those things it's best to accept in films, philosophically annoying, but easy to accept as a necessary evil as long as it's not in your face. Not so here; the film may as well be a feature length ad for Hilton, featuring people repeatedly saying how great their hotels are, their logo all over the place and many of the characters working for them.  Similarly, the Mercedes badge is front and centre throughout, exterior shots looking eerily like car ads for some gull winged luxury monstrosity.

As a film that could probably be adequately reviewed with a non-committal shrug, Danny Collins isn't exactly a must-see. Still, it's not bad bad, and though its morality is skewed in favour of small-c conservatism, consumption and materialism that's far from unusual in mainstream cinema. Still, if you do end up seeing it, there's far worse shite out there and anyway, by the time you're walking out of the cinema you'll have already started to forget it.


Danny Collins is released 29 May 2015

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