(sung to the tune of Danny Boy)
Oh Danny Collins, the pipes you must’ve been smoking/From Glengarry Glen Ross, and now your career slide
The summer’s gone, no more…And Justice For All/It’s you, this movie tried to make us cry.”
I felt the lyrics worked not just because the movie is called Danny Collins, but because I think of some of the singers that have sung Danny Boy: Bing Crosby, Harry Connick Jr., Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, and Tom Jones. The character Danny Collins seemed more like one of them, yet the beginning of the movie shows him being interviewed and praised by a magazine reporter (Nick Offerman). His music is playing at the coffee shop. He’s a folky, singer/songwriter in the Bob Dylan/John Lennon vein. So when the movie wants to make him a nostalgia act that’s content with resting on his laurels and doing “Greatest Hits” shows…Pacino isn’t convincing in that role.
It’s weird to say Pacino wasn’t good in a movie, I know. Let me add to that. The usually reliable Bobby Cannavale plays his son, in the first performance of his I haven’t liked. His wife is played by Jennifer Garner, who isn’t half bad.
Christopher Plummer was outstanding as the tell it like it is manager and best friend.
Annette Bening brings her American President charm to the part of a hotel manager that Collins has his eye on.
Writer/director Dan Fogelman did the somewhat cute movies Last Vegas and Crazy, Stupid, Love. He’s done a few horrible films, too (Fred Claus, Cars 2, The Guilt Trip). One of the things that hurt Crazy, Stupid, Love…were the ham-handed scenes that didn’t seem authentic. Well, this movie had about 15 to 20 of those.
Music lovers will have a problem with all the flawed scenes. Here’s an example. The first taste we get of him doing his best Neil Diamond – is his hit song that sounds like Sweet Caroline. It’s called Hey, Baby Doll. So if that’s his biggest hit, why is he starting the concert with it? The big tunes are either done in the middle of the set, or as an encore.
Another scene that doesn’t work is Collins’ moment that’s like Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party.” The problem is, that doesn’t really happen anymore. The story goes, Ricky Nelson played Madison Square Garden and wanted to perform new songs. The crowd kept yelling out his old hits and didn’t want to hear the new stuff. That got him to write the hit Garden Party about how if he’s going to go out and just perform the old hits, he’d rather “drive a truck.”
In this movie, Collins is given a letter John Lennon wrote to him. He’s a huge Lennon fan, and he feels if he had been given this letter 40 years earlier, he might’ve stayed true to his songwriting craft and not become a sell-out. (side note: strange that the movie is making a statement on “selling out” when that’s exactly what the film is doing with this material).
Collins checks himself into a small hotel in New Jersey to write new material because…who could write in a big mansion? (side note: Why does he leave his ex-fiance, who was cheating on him, in his big mansion?)
Arriving at the hotel chain gives audiences an opportunity for two cliché scenes – The valet that freaks out over the $225,000 Mercedes gullwing, and the meet-cute with Bening. It actually was cute, but was shown to us numerous times in the trailers; and each time they see each other, it gets less and less cute in its repetitiveness.
When Collins books a small performance to try out the new songs, the crowd yells for “Hey, Baby Doll.” That wouldn’t happen. They’d welcome the new songs with open arms (no Journey reference intended). Instead, the movie gave us the most unrealistic, idiotic scene. It led to him once again doing his hits onstage, and doing hits backstage. Yep. That iconic Lennon letter was used as a tray for lines of coke, and then smashed up. I wanted to take that picture frame and smash the director over the head with it.
The movie gets so much wrong. For example, when Collins wants to meet his son for the first time, he asks Bening how he looks. She says, “Ridiculous.” He slyly smiles and says, “Nah.”
He’s wearing a goofy scarf and gaudy outfit, as if he’s about to step on stage. That scene worked. It’s what some out of touch rock star might do. Yet he’s constantly trying to impress Bening, and he has half a brain. The following scenes that show him leaving the hotel and approaching her desk should have him dressed normal. It’s what his character would’ve done, especially considering the fact that his grown son wasn’t so receptive to their meeting. And that leads to another flaw in the movie. Why does Cannavale have such hatred for his dad? This isn’t a father that was horrible to the kid. It’s not a father that left his mom high-and-dry. It was a one-night stand with a groupie. So, some anger could be there, but the amount he had almost turned the audience off on him. Of course, we’re supposed to all get that sympathy back once we find out he’s got some medical problems. I don’t think there’s a cliché Mr. Fogelman left untapped.
The granddaughter is named “Hope,” so we could have scenes of Collins saying “Goodbye, Hope.” Sheesh. Why not name her Jude so he could show up and say “Hey, Jude.”
There were many jokes that fell flat, too.
The Mercedes Benz product placement was annoying as well.
I’m a fan of good soundtracks, and this was a mixed bag. The talented Ryan Adams and Theodore Shapiro did an okay job with the music, and some great John Lennon tracks were used (Imagine, Working Class Hero, Cold Turkey, Whatever Gets You Thru the Night). The use of Beautiful Boy was awful (see Mr. Holland’s Opus for a great use of that).
The movie gets extra credit for the Nichols and May reference, only four months after Mike Nichols death. I take that credit away for making fun of old people that like to eat Red Vines while being entertained.
This movie is going to be a crowd pleaser. Audiences will love watching Pacino in scamp mode, despite the predictability.
I’ll end with some tweaked Lennon lyrics:
Imagine there’s no Lennon/How would Al make us cry?
A Hell below us/For filmmakers that don’t even try.
Imagine all the movies/We’d like to see today….
This gets 2 stars out of 5, for taking an interesting real life story and making a fictional film about it that almost worked.