‘Hey baby doll, what’s going on …’ Aargh! That song’s stuck in my fucking head! It’s not even like it’s stuck in there in the sort of ‘ah this is really catchy I’ll listen to it a few more times’ kind of way – it’s shit and it’s not even sung very well, noooooo ….
As you may have guessed, this film features a song called ‘Baby Doll’ and it is performed by none other than acting legend Al Pacino in the titular role of aged, drug abusing, successful, and yet distinctly disheartened Danny Collins, whose manager one day presents him with a hand written letter from John Lennon that tells him to stay true to his music and to give him a call sometime. Never having received the letter in the decades since it was written, and in his view having sold himself out artistically since then, Collins questions how different his life would have been if he’d been able to speak to his musical idol at the time, and he begins to take everything back to the drawing board to salvage his soul from ‘the road’ and endless performances of music he has long since lost interest in.
Shown after a brief credits role at the end is the real performer, Englishman Steve Tilston, this is based on (the central plot with the letter is true, though the rest appears to be fiction), and director/writer Dan Fogelman has done a great job of keeping us interested in what is a fairly low key film, one ultimately revolving around two dynamics – the main one of Collins trying to reconnect with a son (Bobby Cannavale) he has never had anything to do with before, and the second his attempt to seduce the manager, Mary (Annette Bening), of the hotel he permanently checks into and the ensuing relationship between them that results.
It’s very well paced for what it is and performances full of charm all round really ground the film in the characters, but mostly this works because it all feels very real, a lost soul trying to reconnect with what he has been missing for most of his life. Jennifer Garner plays his son’s wife and Giselle Eisenberg their young daughter, who is supposed to have ADD (attention deficit disorder) but really she seems just like a normal kid enjoying herself. The music comes predominantly from John Lennon with the occasional little ditty from Collins, although Al Pacino has apologised for his crooning in the film, and whilst billed as a comedy the focus is very much on the family drama here. With Christopher Plummer in support too (also, the brunette in the pic above is only in that one scene, disappointing I know).