For Al Pacino to play a dissolute famous guy on the downslide was not exactly a stretch for him. But even toned down, he’s a force on the screen and you can’t not notice him. He plays Danny Collins, a fictional character who’s kinda sorta based on a real person (whom we get to meet during the credits).
Danny Collins is an aging pop superstar who hasn’t written a hit in years, but his concerts keep selling out. It’s just that the people in the audience are all his “old” fans, and Danny Collins has never really wanted to appeal to old people. He’s lived a life of drugs, sex and booze, in between sold-out, glitzy, big-production concerts, where he is undeniably the rock star.
But Danny Collins has been miserable for a long time. His current live-in girlfriend is young enough to be his daughter, and though she’s blatantly provocative and dutifully sexy, there’s no real love there. So Danny just drinks some more. And does more drugs. And generally makes himself into a mostly-functioning drunk who rarely realizes how obnoxious he is. His only real friend in the world is his long-time agent, Frank (Christopher Plummer), who tolerates all his foibles and still hangs around, even if he is getting paid for it.
Danny’s life takes a sudden turn when Frank brings him a surprise: a letter written to him 30 years before by John Lennon, which never got to him. It seems Lennon was responding to an interview that Danny had done for an obscure magazine, in which he said he was afraid that fame and fortune would inhibit his true musical skills. John Lennon wanted Danny to know that it didn’t have to be that way. He could stay true to his musical self, with or without the fame and fortune. He signed it “Love, John and Yoko.”
Apparently the letter had been sent to the long-ago-defunct magazine, which never bothered to try to forward it to Danny. Frank found it online, advertised by a collector in New York, and bought it as shocking surprise for Danny.
It was a shock, all right. Somehow the “voice from beyond” of a young John Lennon causes Danny Collins to wake up to all those years he’s wasted being a selfish celebrity. He resolves to quit the boozing (which turns out to be harder than he thought). He decides he’s going to make contact with a long-lost son, the product of a casual liaison with a one-night-stand groupie, who never bothered him about it afterwards. That pilgrimage turns out to be extraordinarily difficult, because his son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale), is now grown, with a wife, Samantha (Jennifer Garner), and a beautiful but hyperactive young daughter, Hope (Giselle Eisenberg). Tom quickly makes it clear to Danny that he can’t just decide to be a dad now. It’s not that easy. And of course it isn’t.
Nor is it easy for Danny to actually think about writing a song again (Pacino sounds like an older Keith Richards when he tries to sing). When Danny precipitously decides to quit touring and to try to live quietly in a remote hotel in New Jersey, Frank has a conniption fit, and not just because of all the money he’s forsaking. Part of Danny Collin’s redemption, not surprisingly, involves a mature woman, the hotel manager, Mary, played so appealingly by Annette Bening for us to hope that she can resurrect her career better than Danny Collins could. Meanwhile, we can’t help but enjoy the soundtrack of Lennon’s later work, toned-down and folksy, like Danny Collins thinks he wants to be. But compared to John Lennon, we’re all wannabes.
Questions for discussion:
- Is it possible to “re-invent” yourself in your older age? What steps are necessary?
- What would it take to “redeem” parts of your life that you thought were “unredeemable”?
- What does Christian faith teach about redemption? Is everyone redeemable?
Ronald P. Salfen is the supply pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Kaufman, Texas.