20th Century Women

Director: Mike Mills (2017) BBFC cert: 15

My heart sank when I read this drama described as a ‘poignant love letter to the people who raise us’. But it’s even more insuffrable and indulgent than I feared.

Set against the US energy crisis of 1979, this is a mawkishly nostalgic  semi-autobiographical riff on the teenage life of writer/director, Mike Mills.

The charm of Annette Bening alone isn’t enough to enertain us. She stars as bohemian single mum, Dorothea, who lives in a dilapidated mansion.It is strewn with the director’s favourite records, books and clothes of the era.

She rents spare rooms to a hippie handyman and a forthright photographer, while inviting complete strangers to her frequent parties. Meanwhile her son Jamie has an unrequited crush on sulky girl next door, Julie.

Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Lucas Jade Zumann and Billy Crudup play the unlikely cohabitees. Indulgent and under plotted, it feels like an actors workshop.

Everyone spends their time over analysing each other’s behaviour and fertility and feminism are much discussed. Little else happens and most of what does occur is dull.




Danny Collins

Director: Dan Fogelman (2015)

Al Pacino goes full showbiz as a jaded rock star seeking redemption in this entertaining comedy drama.

It’s vaguely based on the true story of folk singer Steve Tilston who belatedly received a letter from John Lennon long after the Beatle’s death.

Although unforgivably sentimental fluff, it’s saved by the talent and charm of its cast.

Plus the soundtrack of John Lennon’s greatest hits doesn’t hurt.

Danny Collins (Pacino) lives in a world of private jets, fast cars, mansions and age-inappropriate women.

In a girdle, fake tan and stack heels he looks alarmingly like TV’s David Dickinson on dress down Friday.

But Danny is weary from playing his greatest hits to his ageing fan-base.

His insufferably catchy pop anthem ‘Hey Baby Doll’ (written by Ciaran Gribbin and Greg Agar) sounds like something Neil Diamond would have discarded as too populist.

On Danny’s birthday his manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) gifts him a framed letter bought from a memorabilia collector.

It was written by John Lennon – but never delivered – 40 years earlier.

It inspires Danny to abandon his tour, give up drugs and drink (sort of) and check into a cheap hotel to start writing songs.

He also wants to correct his life’s mistakes and reaches out to his estranged son Tom (Bobby Cannavale).

Jennifer Garner plays Tom’s knowingly sweet wife Smantha.

Through sparky banter with hotel manager Mary (Annette Bening) Danny rediscovers his muse and his mojo.

The engaging actors plough their years of craft and experience into making their performances seem natural and effortless.

It’s an enjoyably loose performance from Pacino who refrains from his usual hoohah histrionics and is all the more engaging for it.

One wonders how much autobiography drew Pacino – himself a titan of 1970’s cinema and hasn’t had the most successful run in the last twenty years – to the role of a man who was huge in the 70’s and has been coasting on former glories ever since.

Pacino is very generous towards his co-stars, allowing them to dominate scenes and has his thunder stolen repeatedly by a motor-mouthed moppet; Tom’s precociously cute daughter, Sophie (Giselle Eisenberg).

Pacino’s not a terrible singer but he’s forced to growl his way through a dirge called ‘Don’t Look Down’ like a latter-day Johnny Cash.

The script holds up John Lennon as a paragon of artistic integrity – which is interesting as his musical estate is the biggest sell-out in the movie.

It also lacks confidence in being able to sell it’s tale of redemption to the audience, so it throws in ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and cancer to keep our sympathies on board.

This isn’t hugely successful as Danny’s solution to any problem is to throw money at it or write a song – not options many people can identify with.

As a result the film runs out of steam and ends abruptly – with the happy benefit of not out-staying its welcome.