Published Jul 07, 2015Writer/director Dan Fogelman has never written anything particularly good. Cars and Tangled were serviceable in a conservative, formulaic sense, but his adult fare, such as The Guilt Trip, Crazy, Stupid Love and Last Vegas have all been the sort of broad, passionless pap that makes Hollywood so easy to dismiss. There's just something corporate and cold about his work; his characters are defined only by archetype, and his morality is rigidly bound by traditionalist values. In fact, most of his work has revolved around the realization that family is what matters most in this world.
Danny Collins is no exception to this rule. It's very much a more serious version of Last Vegas, insomuch as it posits an aging playboy — here the titular Danny Collins (Al Pacino) — realizing the folly of marrying girls young enough to be his granddaughter. But, since that was pretty much the entire impetus behind Last Vegas, save the geriatric road trip littered with the worst kind of outdated pratfalls, Danny Collins has another framing device: Collins, a wildly successful pop musician, learns of a letter written to him by the late John Lennon that told him not to lose his sense of self after finding commercial success.
This letter motivates our protagonist to changes his ways almost immediately. He ditches his much younger wife and heads off to New Jersey where he writes mediocre music in a suburban Hilton when not trying to reconnect with his estranged son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) and his pregnant wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner). And, to show that Danny is really learning from the errors of his ways, there's a love interest in the form of Annette Bening, who plays a hard-to-get Hilton manager. Since she's only 20 (or so) years younger than him, it's considered progressive.
In a broad sense, this heteronormative bit of fluff is highly watchable. Collins is written as a mostly affable fuck-up with a charming sense of self-awareness. His quest for redemption is also easily identifiable and simple to champion, making it easy for an audience to pray for a family reunion. And since Danny is a rich rock star and his son is struggling a bit — he has Leukaemia and is hiding it from his wife — the situation, despite its inevitable temporary setbacks (as per the formula of these things), is a win-win.
Of course, when you look beneath the cutesy comedy and highly convenient character idiosyncrasies (read: unrealistic), there's something rather grotesque about the entire endeavour. Collins is a promiscuous drug addict. Though there are scenes of him relapsing and going on cocaine benders, there's nothing particularly threatening or abnormal about it. His new family members and love interest obviously object to this behaviour — there's no room for blow in the Judeo-Christian, socionormative nuclear family construct — but it's treated more like an amusing lark than anything particularly problematic.
Similarly, the manner in which people come together and address the past is very twee. Fogelman, in trying to make something that reassures his audience that it's never too late to make amends, avoids anything thorny and resultantly simplifies the conflict between father and son and removes the basic psychological complexity that led these people down that road for decades preceding this story.
It's also odd that the letter, which is really the impetus behind the film, becomes almost irrelevant towards the end of the film. The set-up of the film leads us to believe that the music is a metaphor for Danny's life, but save writing a song in his hotel room that he never ends up performing, there's really nothing to align the outcome of the film with the conceit driving everything forward.
Danny Collins is well intentioned — albeit trite, patronizing and very "white" — but there's an overwhelming sense that it wasn't inspired by any sort of genuine motivation. Everything about it seems like an amalgamation of marketing and screening writing analysis, which is what makes its efforts to seem wholesome and sincere that much more grating.
Still, there are worse things out there, and there's nothing outright awful about this minor comedy-drama. It's just not really worth all of the effort that went into making it.
The DVD release includes a brief "behind the scenes," which is literally just movie footage spliced with very, very fluffy, enthusiastic interview snippets.