The following is an excerpt from Peter Travers' review of DANNY COLLINS, now playing in select theaters. Peter Travers is an American film critic who writes for Rolling Stone.
Al Pacino is the life of the party in DANNY COLLINS and you're all in for a blast. Pacino is having a ball playing the title role. His way way younger fiancÃ©e, Sophie (Katarina Cas), lounges poolside as Danny works out a pre-nup. The dough Danny rolls in comes from stadium-filling concerts in which his AARP-ready audiences sing along to DannyÂ¹s greatest hits, especially his signature anthem, 'Hey Baby Doll.' It's as if Bob Dylan has morphed into Rod Stewart. Danny is riding high by selling the past. But he's sick of it. His longtime manager Frank Grubman (a priceless Christopher Plummer) inadvertently kills the golden goose when he gives Danny a gift. It's an undelivered 1971 letter to Danny from John Lennon, in which the former Beatle invited Danny to discuss career choices. Lennon included his home phone number, and signed the letter 'love, John and Yoko.' The movie draws its inspiration from a real Lennon letter sent to British musician Steve Tilston, who worried about the corrupting influence of commercial success. The letter is as far as screenwriter and debuting director Dan Fogelman sticks to the facts. A playful screen credit reads: 'Kind of based on a true story a little bit.'
The Lennon letter sparks a crisis of conscience in Danny. He vows to quit touring and write the kind of music he thinks Lennon would have encouraged. So Danny flies to New Jersey and checks into the Woodcliff Lake Hilton. The choice isn't random. New Jersey is the home of Tom Donnelly (Bobby Cannavale), the son Danny had after a one-night stand with a groupie, now deceased. Tom, a suburban working stiff, wants nothing do with his Big Daddy. But when Danny visits Tom's home in his gigunda tour bus and meets his wife, Samantha (Jennifer Garner), and their ADHD daughter (Giselle Eisenberg), can reconciliation be far away? Of course, it can't. Even Danny's flirtation with hotel manager Mary Sinclair (the reliably wonderful Annette Bening) goes as expected. But here's the thing. Pacino and a primo cast play the whole thing like it matters. And so it does. Cannavale digs deep into the role of the resentful son, revealing scar tissue not easily healed. Watching fine actors add complexity to the outlines of their characters is a pleasure. And Pacino, whether strutting onstage or wrestling with his demons, makes it clear that Danny is a charm-bomb who can only change so much. Danny using his power and influence to get his hyper granddaughter the help she needs, reality demands that all these characters, especially Danny, accept their human limitations. With nine Lennon songs on the soundtrack, including 'Imagine', and 'Don't Look Down,' a new song for Danny to express his creative reinvention, this hilarious and heartfelt movie is an exuberant gift. But it's Pacino, exuding charm and hard-earned wisdom, who makes it irresistible.