St. Vincent Review
No one does cynical and grumpy quite like Bill Murray. He’s like the comic love child of Humphrey Bogart and Walter Matthau. In his latest offering, which has been hailed by critics as one of his best performances, he plays Vincent, a heavy drinking and gambling Vietnam vet who steamrolls through life with his own unique blend of cynicism and intolerance towards all those he encounters. That is until Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), recently separated from her philandering husband, moves in next door with her ten year old son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Her frequent late working hours compels her to employ Vincent as an after school babysitter for Oliver.
Oliver is immediately entranced by Vincent’s charismatic grumpiness and, feeling the loss of his own father, he embraces all of Vincent’s curious eccentricities and flaws. He also begins to accompany him on after school excursions to the nursing home where Vincent regularly visits his ill wife, and to the race track where, predictably enough, Oliver exerts a positive influence over Vincent’s poor winning streak.
There isn’t really a great deal of originality on display here. What we essentially have is Hollywood’s tried and tested buddy movie formula between the older man and the younger kid, with both learning from the other and filling gaps in each other’s lives. If any credibility can be bestowed here it’s on Murray’s performance which never surrenders to sentimentality, even towards the saccharin coated third act. Murray and Lieberher also have wonderful chemistry together and the film could never be labelled boring, but it ultimately falls victim to repeated acts of predictable unoriginality.
Meanwhile, the only other significant attachment in Vincent’s life comes in the form of Naomi Watts as Daka, a pregnant Russian pole dancer and prostitute. She and Vincent have the strangest of relationships which, despite being quirky on the outside, fails to offer any depth to the characters or the film, mainly due to Daka's lack of development. Watts does the best she can with the material but it is just a waste of the actress’ talents. It just too often feels like her character was added to yield as much laughter as possible, to mixed results.
McCarthy is similarly not given the opportunities to display the comedic feats she has shown in other films; effectively playing the straight woman here. Having said that, her relationship with her son is genuinely heartfelt and she does have a moving scene later in the film when she talks to his principal about the strain she has been under. Chris O’Dowd is also around to add that Irish charm of his to Oliver’s religious teacher, but he only really serves to champion the film’s overarching theme of Saintliness and to focus Oliver’s attention on this by assigning his class to research a modern day, real life saint. No prizes for guessing who he chooses.
It is possible that Murray’s grumpiness has rubbed off on me as I write this review, but I suppose I was just expecting a little bit more from what I had heard. There are some laughs to be had, and unless you have a heart of stone, you will find parts of the film very touching indeed. When all is said and done, it is Murray alone who shines here. His quick wit and cantankerous temperament cannot be bettered by anyone else in the business. Still, it is not the best of his career; in no way overshadowing the fragility and detachment he displayed in Lost in Translation. For a simple, feel-good movie this Christmas, you could certainly do much worse than giving this a go. And while one can’t expect anything new, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with settling down to a familiar and trusted formula.