The Public Domain
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated but includes adult themes.
Theater: Lagoon.
Premiere: 7 p.m. Friday, with red carpet, filmmakers Q&A and afterparty.

 

The 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge created a range of emotional aftershocks, some socially visible, others hidden. In this crisp, touching little drama, many of the consequences enter a Minneapolis bar.

The Public Domain (a quintessential Northeast pub invented for the locally shot film) is where callers go to revisit time in a bottle. We enter this home away from home eight years after the disaster alongside several regulars, each still coping with unique varieties of life’s fallout.

The script, by director Patrick Coyle, doesn’t try to squeeze much symbolic mileage out of the tragedy, favoring character over circumstance.

Emily Bridges (daughter of Beau of the famous film acting clan) plays a twenty-something writer, dealing with with the pain and aggravation of childhood abuse. Guthrie Theater leading man Peter Christian Hansen plays a brother returning home to atone for years of absence. His stage colleague Mark Benninghofen is an ad agency cad trying to hold the reins of his disused marriage while riding the saddle of a hard-to-resist affair. Sara Marsh (of the Minnesota-made comedy “Sugar and Spice”) is an actress using her looks for professional and personal advantage.

Each subplot intersects with the next unexpectedly and even minor characters get entertaining attention. Brian Porter (“Dear White People”) adds ricochets of comic relief as a cocky journeyman actor aiming to outperform every tryout competitor. Coyle, a gifted performer as well as filmmaker, plays the villain of the piece, a secretive peeping Tom gathering information for purposes initially unidentified. He has given us a well-crafted small budget indie touching some painful, funny truths.
COLIN COVERT

Danny Collins
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for language, drug use, nudity.
Theater: Uptown.

 

How bad could a movie be that features talent as serious as Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, Bobby Cannavale and Jennifer Garner? This bad, alas.

In this cute but consistently stodgy opus, Pacino plays a wealthy old soft rock star. Danny found his talent in the 1970s, lost it through decades of hammy pop success, and hopes to find it again while connecting with the man he fathered on a tour 40 years earlier. Pacino is one of the best actors in film history, even now at age 74 and 11 months. He’s still got a voice strong enough to inflate big, shouty parts, but he can sing like your ears can chew gum. So why is he cast as an aged pop superstar?

In certain ways it makes sense. The film gives Pacino a rare chance to play an avuncular, chuckling, glad-handing codger. His scenes with Danny’s youthful foreign lover (nice work by Yugoslovia’s Katarina Cas) are an amusing in-joke, given Pacino’s long personal relationship with Argentine beauty Lucila Solá. But he can’t sell a musical scene.

Writer/director Dan Fogelman, who created the age comedies “The Guilt Trip” and “Last Vegas,” gives us a redemption love story too cute for its own good. When his manager and lifelong friend Frank (Plummer) gives Danny a long lost message sent to him by his idol, John Lennon, the handwritten fan letter inspires him. He eases up on his appetite for alcohol and cocaine. He travels from L.A. splendor to blue-collar New Jersey with heartfelt apologies and lavish, big-ticket gifts for his construction worker son Tom (Cannavale) and Tom’s pregnant wife (Garner). He shares his chagrin at Tom’s long-simmering resentment with the hostess of his East Coast Hilton, Mary (Bening), a bright, age-appropriate replacement for his young girlfriend. With Lennon songs popping up across the soundtrack like so much hotel Muzak, the film is ultimately more about celebrity.
C.C.

 

SERENA
⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for violence, sexual situations.
Theater: Lagoon.

 

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper signed on to this indie before they became two of America’s most recognizable actors. But Susanne Bier’s dark drama is a real slog. The movie is set during the Great Depression around the Smoky Mountains, where George Pemberton (Cooper) runs a timber enterprise. He returns from a vacation with a young bride, Serena (Lawrence), a spitfire whose late father was also a logging man.

Cooper and Lawrence do their best, but the material consistently works against them, from the overwrought dialogue to the never-ending plot twists. The movie feels a little bit like a logging version of “There Will Be Blood,” except that the characters in this study aren’t really worth consideration.

Stephanie Merry, Washington Post