St. Vincent is ultimately derivative of other (and better) indie filmmakers’ work, but thanks to Bill Murray’s performance, it’s still a pleasant and funny viewing experience.
St. Vincent stars Bill Murray as Vincent MacKenna, an incorrigible retiree who spends most of his days getting drunk, betting on horse races, and hanging around with his favorite stripper/prostitute, Daka (Naomi Watts). When the newly-single mom Maggie Bronstein (Melissa McCarthy) moves in next door to him, Vincent agrees to babysit her 12-year old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) while she works long hours at the hospital, in order to help pay off his numerous growing debts.
Despite their differences, it doesn’t take very long for Vincent and Oliver to form a meaningful bond with one another – even as Vincent’s unsavory behavior starts to catch up to him. Meanwhile, as Oliver learns more and more about Vincent (and studies the concept of saints at his Catholic school), he begins to realize that there is more to his unruly caretaker than first meets the eye.
Directed by Theodore Melfi (in his feature-length debut) and based on his screenplay (which made the 2011 Hollywood Black List of best unproduced scripts), St. Vincent is yet another offbeat character study anchored by one of the more beloved funnyman personalities in Hollywood right now. St. Vincent is ultimately derivative of other (and better) indie filmmakers’ work, but thanks to Bill Murray’s performance, it’s still a pleasant and funny viewing experience.
The film, at first glance, may appear to draw heavily from such movies as Bad Santa – or more recently Bad Words – casting a well-established older actor as the bad-behaving mentor to a precocious young boy – and to a degree, that is true. However, Melfi’s feature is more reminiscent of the films made by Murray’s frequent collaborator, Wes Anderson; not just in terms of its similar quirky characters, dry comedy style, and motifs (see: questionable father figures), but even with respect to certain stylistic flourishes (wide-angle camera shot compositions, slow-motion montages set to vintage pop songs) – the kind that feel lifted from Anderson’s playbook.
Melfi’s film doesn’t have the personal touch that Anderson’s best movies have, nor is it on the same level of technical craftsmanship. Having said that, St. Vincent is nonetheless solidly assembled on its own terms, as Melfi and his cinematographer John Lindley (Pleasantville, Reservation Road) make better use of visual comedy/storytelling techniques than other recent dramedies – just not necessarily enough so to demand viewing the movie on a big screen, is all.
In terms of its narrative, St. Vincent is fairly loosely constructed and often intentionally scattershot – sometimes to a fault though – and in the end, it ties everything together in a manner that, for some filmgoers, will come as being more saccharine than sweet. Melfi’s script includes some heavier dramatic moments, but they tend to be passed through quickly; it prevents the movie from getting bogged down in dour melodrama, but at the same time this robs the story of some of its poignancy.
Bill Murray is very much the anchor that keeps St. Vincent from drifting too far out to sea; his performance ensures the film’s protagonist remains enjoyably curmudgeonly (and funny) throughout, even when the movie starts to reduce him to the typical grump with a heart of gold. Melissa McCarthy likewise offers a refreshingly buttoned-down and straight-faced performance that’s both relatable and often heartbreakingly sympathetic (even though her character’s storyline gets a little short-shrifted).
Newcomer Jaeden Lieberher and Naomi Watts are saddled with characters who read as almost cartoonishly offbeat on paper – a wide-eyed and intelligent boy beyond his years – if also peculiar – and a brass, pregnant, Russian “lady of the night” (as Vincent calls her). Fortunately, these actors bring out the humanity beneath those caricatures, even though they (like everyone else in the movie) play second fiddle to Murray. The same goes for such character actors as Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd), Terrence Howard (Iron Man), and Ann Dowd (Masters of Sex), who make the most of their brief supporting roles.
St. Vincent, on a whole, is a respectable debut for Melfi as a director, though he has a ways to go to reach the same level of quality as the other indie filmmakers (be it Wes Anderson or Jim Jarmusch) that Murray prefers to collaborate with nowadays. Those moviegoers who are die-hard Murray fans and/or in the mood to catch a decent quirky indie dramedy might want to give this one a look in theaters; otherwise, you’re fine waiting to catch this one at home down the line.
St. Vincent is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 102 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language.
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