99 Cents of Al Pacino

Last week the 99c movie to rent was the 2015 movie Danny Collins and I watched it over the weekend.

The film is a really weird mix no matter how you look at it. The premise is neat, and based on a true incident that happened to a young up-and-coming musician after he was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine. Al Pacino plays the musician, who is well into the third act of his career when the story starts and endlessly touring arenas singing his back catalogue to his faithful and aging fans. He is rich, successful and dying inside as he sings the same set night after night of songs he wrote thirty years ago.

Then, on his birthday he given a present by his manager: a letter that was written to him by John Lennon decades earlier, that he had never received. Lennon had read the Rolling Stone interview and written to encourage him to keep writing – even adding his phone number and inviting him to drop by if in NY.

The letter has an immediate and traumatic effect on him, and he determines to shake himself out of his dreamwalking state and find his voice again – yes that old chestnut. He leaves the tour, leaves his much younger and faithless wife and checks himself into a small hotel (albeit still part of the Hilton chain, something we are reminded of in every scene that takes place there through the extreme product placement).

So far so predictable. Then you throw into the mix an estranged son with his young family and Annette Benning, who is the manager at the hotel who catches his eye, resulting in the will-they-won’t-they sub plot and you pretty much have the ingredients for a movie the plot of which you could write with your eyes shut.

Except the plot does not run exactly as you might predict. Yes, there are a couple of montage sequences during which it was difficult not to think of The Naked Gun but not everything goes according to the rules of movie world. While I first found Pacino’s singing performances so cringe-worthy I wanted to hide behind the couch, I later realised they were probably supposed to be like that and his character is not a black and white story but a man who has travelled too long down the easy path – maybe too far down to turn now at this this stage of his life – but whose heart, recognized so long before by John Lennon through his music, is still as true as it always was.

It is not a perfect movie, there are plenty of cliches and it is not going to change the world but all the lead performances are strong and committed, although Jennifer Garner is wasted somewhat. While I first found some of the plot lurching made me want to roll my eyes, the movie has stayed with me far longer that I would have expected. Pacino is not above throwing himself into the role of a man who has become a virtual parody of himself – and this is signalled early watching him sitting slumped in his dressing room chair, trousers ridden up around his crotch, small pot belly protruding over the waistband of his trousers. Although it contains some good dollops of schmalz, there is also humour throughout. The movie is committed to its central themes and I can think of worse ways to spend a rainy afternoon.

 

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