While it apparently never got a chance to play very much in the U.S., Spain’s entry in the competition for the most recent Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed, tells a marvelously-intriguing story, based in fact, about a Spanish teacher of English to middle-school kids back in 1966 who was so fascinated with John Lennon and The Beatles that he found his way to where Lennon was acting in Richard Lester’s How I Won the War and met briefly with his idol. This charming film was a delight and certainly a plausible contender for Oscar gold (although it didn’t make the 5 finalists, nor would it have had much chance of topping the eventual winner, Ida; I’ll offer you reviews of Living … and Ida if you’d like to read them), but now we have another opportunity to see a feature film based on a real event involving Lennon. This time, though, only the basic premise is actual, with a completely fabricated story constructed around it that doesn’t hold up as well as the earlier Spanish film. In Danny Collins we have an aging pop star played by Al Pacino—marvelous as a character, not so plausible as a decades-famous-singer—who finds that John wrote him a letter back in 1971 encouraging him to not let fame and fortune undermine his true artistic ambitions (this really did happen with Steve Tilston, an up-and-coming English folksinger; you can read all about it in my detailed review). Unfortunately, neither Danny nor the real guy got their letters, due to greedy interference in the offices of the magazines where the real/fictional interviews were published that caught Lennon’s attention, so a collectors got the message intended for Danny, who finally gets proper delivery in 2012, encouraging him to halt his empty (but lucrative) career, rediscover his musical roots, and finally meet the son (by a groupie) who’s never been a part of his life and still doesn’t want to be. As Danny Collins unfolds we get some decent comedy at times, consistently solid acting (especially by Pacino, along with Christopher Plummer as his long-time-manager and Annette Bening as the manager of the New Jersey hotel he’s holed up in), and some viable comments on the difficulties of trying to initiate a long-delayed self-rescue, but there’s also a good bit of sentimental sap that too often feels too constructed.
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