Superstars aren't allowed to change. Even the fans who love them insist they be dipped in wax: no new songs, no new attitude, and certainly no new look. Such is the "kind of based on a true story a little bit" premise of Danny Collins, a charmer with Al Pacino as a megawatt singer who sells out stadiums but has calcified into a caricature. Pacino plays him as delusionally vain. Danny's accepted selling out — who wouldn't? — until his manager (Christopher Plummer) presents him with a letter John Lennon wrote decades ago urging Danny to "stay true to yourself." Talk about a from-the-grave guilt trip.
Danny Collins is a redemption movie in the skeptical key of Jerry Maguire. Our decadent hero decides to fix himself in the first act. The rest of the film is him realizing how hard it'll be to keep living right -- and that maybe he doesn't have the moral clout to manage it. Danny jets off to Jersey in his private plane, checks into a modest hotel, and stuffs a grand piano into a room so cramped he has no choice but to sit down at the stool and compose.
In a way, Danny Collins is allowing Al Pacino to do the same thing. The great Seventies talent has "hoo-ah!"–ed through recent decades, cranking out variations on his greatest hits. This movie is a narrow character piece that shows Pacino wrestling to reveal layers in a man who's worried he might actually be hollow. He and Fogelman string together dozens of small, perfect moments. Meanwhile, Bobby Cannavale, playing Danny's estranged son, comes close to out-acting Pacino, who proves willing to share the mic.