MANY OF US find ourselves searching for a personal "third act" - that chance to start over again, regain our mojo after, say, a job loss, illness or marital break-up.
So, maybe that's why the glamorous but burned-out pop-star impression offered by Al Pacino, as "Danny Collins," doesn't seem beamed from Mars, and earns our sympathies when all's said and sung, in this kindly parable from writer and first-time director Dan Fogelman (best known as the writer of "Cars," "Crazy Stupid Love," and "Tangled.")
At first it's hard to relate to the music vet's Hollywood Hills super mansion, gullwing Benz and otherwise self-indulgent lifestyle (heavy on the booze, coke and babydoll girlfriend).
Then all things start to change (some for the better) after Collins' manager (a portrait of infinite patience from Christopher Plummer) comes up with a long-lost note written to his client by John Lennon - a response to an early 1970s magazine interview with a young and idealistic Collins. In his correspondence, the most righteous Beatle urged the kid to stay true to himself - keep his integrity intact - even if/when he became a rich celeb. As had Lennon, of course.
This 40-years-dead-letter becomes a belated wake-up call for the now bored, mildly self-loathing Collins to pick up the pieces - to hop on his tour bus, head East and fix his life: first, to finally connect with the now fully grown "love child" Tom (a brusque and bitter Bobby Cannavale) and his family (protective wife Samantha, played by Jennifer Garner; their hyper-active daughter named Hope, Giselle Eisenberg) whom Collins has never known. And, second - with the gentle goading of an almost age-appropriate and awfully adorable hotel manager (film-stealing Annette Bening) - to gas up his songwriting engine again after decades of running on empty.
At film's outset, an on-screen message suggests that this saga is loosely based on true events. That hint gives us a free pass to connect Pacino's cocky persona to stars we've known, loved and sometimes loathed. Yeah, the bearded lothario look suggests Tom Jones. When Collins/Pacino growls (repeatedly) his biggest hit "Hey Baby Doll," the kinship to Neil Diamond rehashing "Sweet Caroline" is unmistakable. And all that sour business about resting on laurels seems so Rod Stewart, so Billy Joel, so Barry Manilow!
In truth, the real talent that John Lennon actually hoped to encourage was an English chap named Steve Tilston, and he's nothing like the above. Instead think pub-style, finger-picking folk balladeer, a contemporary of Nick Drake and influence on David Gray. He's a musician who never blew up, never sold out and is still doing fine work.
It'd be a tickle if Tilston earned a U.S. tour out of this film. It would be equally terrific if Billy Joel (a huge Lennon and McCartney fan) was finally goaded into crafting some new tunes after taking in this saga.
There is still time, brother. And for us all.