Do not be shocked if St. Vicent seems familiar; a grumpy old man who can barely take care of himself forced to tend to the needs of a child is a concept well many have drawn from. By taking a proven premise first time director Theodore Melfi is clearing hoping his first time is not also his last time.
Bad Santa, the original Bad News Bears, and even The Mighty Ducks have used this idea with staggering success. Typically the key to making it work is getting right cantankerous man to play the part. Walter Mattau, Billy Bob Thorton, and now Bill Murray can be added to the list of people that have taken this familiar role and made it uniquely their own.
Murray plays Vincent, a fowled mouth lowlife who spends the majority of his time in dive bars and at race tracks. With a home that looks like ground zero for the world’s next epidemic and a tendency to enjoy the warm embrace of ladies of the night he is the last person you would leave a goldfish with let alone a child.
Melissa McCarthy, who plays his new neighbor, finds herself in a precarious situation and needs to rely on Vincent to watch her son Oliver. With her being in the middle of a vicious divorce she has nowhere else to turn to, and Vincent reluctantly agrees figuring it could at least land him a few bucks. As you would expect a bond begins the grow between Oliver and Vincent as we learn there may be more to Vincent then he leads on.
St. Vincent is not a movie that would ever surprise you, although it never really tries. An ideal dramedy that would be perfect to watch with a group of random relatives over the upcoming Holidays. It is a light simple story that lets you know where it is going right from the start. Of course the bully subplot will go where it does, and of course the mysterious old woman Vincent visits at the nursing home will be who you expect. Sometimes the best cooks can make bland ingredients feel special, and that is what we have here.
One wonders if any direction was given to Murray beyond, ‘Be Bill Murray’. Not that this is just an exercise in Murray’s antics. It is much more than that. He gives the character a depth the script does not. He can dull the overly sentimental dialog by using his trademark wit, or evoke sympathy when he allows his comedic façade to fade to show a man full of sorrow.
Murray being fantastic does not come as a surprise. What is a little more unexpected is Melissa McCarthy finally playing an everyday normal human being that is capable of normal human interaction. After her breakout role in Bridesmaids a few years ago she has become her own phenomenon. Considering her box office appeal it was a welcome site to see her used sparingly in the right parts. Her interactions with Murray are some of the films best moments. She stays within the confines of the character instead of resorting to her typical over the top comedic ways.
Jaeden Lieberher, who plays McCarthy’s aforementioned son, is the true breakout star. He has a natural presence that is unfazed by the star power around him. He is not the wise beyond his years child star, nor is he the type of actor to beat you to death with cute remarks. He comes off as a normal everyday kid placed in an extraordinary situation. The bond between him and Murray is what makes this movie work. When the film is focused less on plot and more on their interactions it is at its finest.
If the film had more confidence in its characters it would have led to a stronger result. Instead, and gets caught up trying to cram in story bits that add very little. Vincent’s mob debts and health issues lead to story lines that hinder the pacing without adding much to the story. Both seemingly only appear to add bits of drama, then disappear when focus shifts to something entirely different. Other aspects like Naomi Watts playing a pregnant Russian prostitute come has a need to push the quirk a little too far.
Even with its issues St. Vincent is a lot better movie than it deserves to be. A lesson in what can happen when smart casting is meshed with a wiliness to give actors freedom to make their roles their own.