You have to hand it to Dan Fogelman. The writer-director is determined to make multiplex movies for an audience that are largely ignored by the multiplexes: an audience of, shall we diplomatically say, a certain age.
His last two movies have included Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Barbra Streisand in starring roles. This one stars Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer. I'm determined not to include the brilliant Annette Bening in that as she's only fifty-six, even though that's sadly considered old age when it comes to an ageist, gender-biased Hollywood.
Where Dan Fogelman messes up is that while he tries to ape Cameron Crowe he's not after good Cameron Crowe (despite the last scene here being a total lift from Say Anything). It's Elizabethtown Cameron Crowe. It's We Bought A Damn Zoo Cameron Crowe. Danny Collins has its moments but it's too soft, too cosy, too bloody Cameron Crowe for its own good.
Back in the early seventies Danny Collins (Pacino) was an up and coming singer-songwriter in the folky West Coast mould. But now he's Barry Manilow, doing singalongs for old ladies at the Greek, and while it's making him rich it's killing his soul. When he belatedly receives a letter John Lennon once wrote to him about keeping it real, he's encouraged to disembark the tour bus, hold up in a New Jersey hotel, pen some new honest songs, woo hotel manager Mary (Bening), and get in contact with long lost blue collar son Tom (Cannavale). All the while manager (Plummer) is telling him that his money is running out...
There are problems early on if you're looking for them. When Danny decides he's going to keep it real, he books himself into the least flashy hotel room he can find and flushes his coke. Now, because he keeps his naff scarf and the naffer earing, you think that Fogelman is saying that these changes are cosmetic, that Danny must make bigger gestures before he can be allowed to be different man, that he will rid himself of the bling in a showy demonstration of change later. But no: both are still very much in action as the credits roll, which means, as you might have suspected all along, that Danny is real knob. And it's hard to root for a knob.
Al Pacino is a great actor and while he does help turning down the volume on Danny's general knobness he is never in a million years a rock star. Maybe this is why Fogelman keeps Pacino off the stage for the most part here, concentrating instead on the melodramatic dad-son and love interest dynamics. And they, despite heavy work on Fogelman's part to push as many emotional buttons as he can, do what they're meant to.
Meanwhile Bening is as delightful as ever and Cannavale convinces as the working angry dad/husband. A pregnant Garner, however, is shunted into the background to mind the Cameron Crowe Cute Kid Character.