ST VINCENT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Theodore Melfi

Stars: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Jaeden Lieberher, Ann Dowd, Terrence Howard, Nate Cordrry, Ron McLarty, Dario Barosso, Scott Adsit.

St Vincent is a slightly predictable, surprisingly upbeat, and genuinely feel good comedy/drama and coming of age tale about an unlikely friendship. And it is, arguably, one of the better films of Bill Murray’s career. It is also good to see him return to his comedic roots for a chance.

Vincent McKenna (played by Murray) is a former Vietnam vet who is now an embittered, misanthropic alcoholic, gambler and loner who seems to hate just about everybody except for his cat and an exotic dancer named Daka (Naomi Watts). He takes an instant dislike to his new neighbour Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a recent divorcee who moves in next door with her scrawny young son Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie is a nurse, but when she is forced to work overtime, Vincent reluctantly agrees to babysit Oliver, for $12 an hour. But unexpectedly an odd couple friendship slowly develops between the two.

With his love of drinking and gambling he may not be the best role model for the impressionable young Oliver. But Vincent becomes something of a surrogate father for the vulnerable boy, teaching him how to defend himself against bullies, and even imparting some of his hard earned wisdom about how the world works. Oliver also seems to bring out another side of Vincent’s prickly nature, and they begin to change each other’s lives for the better.

This is an assured debut feature film for Theodore Melfi, who is better known as a producer and director of short films. Themes of divorce, loss, separation, illness, financial hardship and dysfunctional relationships give the material a bit of a harder edge. Melfi scratches beneath the surface of his deeply flawed and quirky characters, many of whom are also haunted by their past. Many of them seem unlikeable when we first meet them, but as Melfi slowly peels backs their outer layers we learn more about them and the events that have shaped them. They become more sympathetic characters, although Melfi does allow the film to become slightly manipulative and overly sentimental by the end.

What really makes St Vincent work though is the astute casting.

The role of the cynical misanthropic Vincent is tailor made for Murray and his typically deadpan delivery and cantankerous screen persona, and he rises to the occasion, delivering one of his best performances. He also demonstrates his gift for physical comedy, which has been ignored for too long by directors not sure how to best use his talents. Too often of late Murray seems to have been coasting along not really engaging or connecting to the characters he has been playing. But here he seems to have found some of that old spark that directors like Wes Anderson were able to exploit to great effect.

First time director Melfi even manages to rein in the normally over the top McCarthy, who dials back her usual fat woman schtick and propensity for gross out gags to deliver a more gently nuanced and emotionally resonant performance here.

Newcomer Lieberher is a fantastic find! He has a natural presence and a winning presence, and is the perfect foil for the droll Murray. His winning performance here has been compared by many critics to Macaulay Culkin in his breakout performance in Home Alone. There is great chemistry between him and Murray that lifts the film.

Naomi Watts is also very good, and she affects a faux Eastern European accent for her delightful and offbeat performance as the heavily pregnant Daka, one of the few people privy to Vincent’s true nature underneath the grouchy exterior. Chris O’Dowd makes the most of his smaller role as Oliver’s teacher, the genial Father Geraghty, whose school assignment about researching local people who could be considered having the qualities of a saint gives the film its central conceit.

However, we could have done without Terrence Howard’s character as a vicious loan shark though as his subplot adds a rather unnecessary and unpleasant undertone to an otherwise light, charming and crowd pleasing film.

And stick around for a brief after the credits sequence that shows Murray improvising a droll and playful routine that is reminiscent of his work in Scrooged. It may not actually add much to the film itself but it is just fun to watch Murray at work.

★★★★

 

Speak Your Mind