There's a big dollop of sentimentality at the heart of Dan Fogelman's film, which is very loosely based on a true story. It plays like a latter-day version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol with Al Pacino as the Scrooge-figure.
Pacino's Danny Collins is not a mean old skinflint but an intensely selfish, ageing rock star who has been very successful in his career, singing other people's songs, racking up trophy wives, boozing and taking industrial quantities, but who has neglected those closest to him. "I haven't written a song in 30 years. I'm a fucking joke. I was the real thing once," is his self-pitying lament.
When, out of the blue, he receives a letter that John Lennon wrote to him way back in 1971, Danny belatedly tries to make amends for his misbehaviour over the last four decades and to connect with the son (Bobby Cannavale) he has never acknowledged, the daughter-in-law he has never met (Jennifer Garner) and a Shirley Temple-like granddaughter who turns out to have ADHD.
This entails him taking up residence in a Hilton hotel in New Jersey. He warms to the hotel manager (Annette Bening) because she, at least, is always ready to speak back to him.
Danny is a role tailor-made for Pacino at this stage in his career, one that enables him both to indulge in some very hammy scene-stealing, but also to show his character's vulnerability and essential decency. His "patter" with Bening is well-handled and the film is performed with such heart and good humour that it gets away with its own mawkishness.
There is plenty of John Lennon on the soundtrack. Pacino's own singing is more in the Leonard Cohen groove.
The film makes an intriguing companion piece to the recent Philip Roth adaptation, The Humbling, in which Pacino plays an ageing actor with similar misgivings about his past. That was a very sour film. This one, by contrast, is nothing if not sweet-natured at its core.
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