I’ve never been a big Bill Murray fan. Therefore, I certainly have not seen all of his films, but in the ones I have watched, it seems that he always plays pretty much the same oh-woe-is-me-sad-sack-down-on-his-luck-feel-sorry-for-me-dead-pan-expression guy. And I’ve never thought he was particularly funny. So what possessed me to see “St. Vincent”? I guess it was the only film that fit into my schedule, and although I was thoroughly prepared to dislike it, I found it quit enjoyable much to my amazement.
Murray plays Vincent MacKenna, an unemployed, decorated Vietnam veteran who always seems to have enough money for booze and cigarettes. His home is a small, messy bungalow in Brooklyn, where he lives with his cat, Felix, and where he often “entertains” Daka Paramova (Naomi Watts), a stripper and a “lady of the night.” Vince is married, but his wife, Sandy (Donna Mitchell), lives in a medical facility where she receives constant care for Alzheimer’s. As you can see, this character was made for Murray.
Vincent seems fairly comfortable with his relatively mundane existence, but his life changes significantly when Maggie Bronstein (Melissa McCarthy) moves in next door. She is a single mother with a 12-year-old son named Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), and she works at a local hospital as a medical technician. One day when Oliver returns home from school, he finds himself locked out of the house, and so he goes next door to use the phone and call his mother. Thus is born the relationship between Vincent and Oliver that is film’s heart.
Because Maggie must often work late hours, she enters into an agreement with Vincent to take care of Oliver until she gets home. Despite their age and lifestyle differences, a magical bond grows between the two. Vincent takes Oliver with him to the racetrack, a local bar, and Daka’s strip joint, and he also teaches Oliver how to defend himself after some bullies accost him at school. Although Vincent really has no friends, he ultimately finds one in Oliver, who is able to look beneath Vincent’s curmudgeonly façade and see something others don’t – a man capable of deep feelings.
“St. Vincent” is a feel-good film that is pleasantly entertaining from beginning to end, and it offers a nice blend of comedy and drama. In the film’s production notes Murray explained what drew him to the picture.
“The script was different. It had a different rhythm than most things have and had a lot of emotion in the story. Ted had a pretty good way of writing it that has the potential to not be sentimental at all, which is how I really like to see emotion delivered: without sentimentality at all. You feel it, and you’re not tricked into it. You’re not drenched in it. You just get it. It comes at you, and it comes as a natural outcome of the way the plot goes.”
Even though it’s obvious where the story is headed when Vincent and Oliver meet, Murray and Lieberher have such a great chemistry that the movie still is worth watching despite its predictability. Vincent is the kind of character Murray has made his own in so many films. When we first meet Vincent, he’s totally downtrodden, but after Oliver comes into his life, he slowly begins to see the brighter side of things.
Of course Murray is a veteran actor, and he certainly should be accomplished in his craft by now, but this is only Lieberher’s second film and his first major role. And I thought he stole the show. Oliver’s most endearing characteristic is his charming naïveté, and Lieberher conveys this with the poise and self-confidence of someone who has spent years in front of the camera.
This movie marks the directorial debut of Theodore Melfi, and in the production notes, he was generous in his praise of the youngster.
“Jaeden is just an exceptional human. To me, he’s a lot like Bill Murray in his humanity. He understands people, he understands how to react, he understands how not to act, he doesn’t try, he’s fully present at all times, and he’s still. He’s calm, and that still and calm are irreplaceable. At any moment Jaeden is there as a presence that is still and calm which is affecting all the other characters. He’s like a 90-year-old, but yet when he smiles and giggles, it breaks your heart. He is going to have a remarkable life. I don’t know whether that life will be in acting. I hope so for him because he’s so talented, but regardless, his inner spirit overwhelms me.
Murray concurred with Melfi is his comments about Lieberher in the production notes.
“I’m not so sure about kid actors usually, but he’s very good. I liked him more every day. There was one day he was just so good; he was as good as anybody I’ve ever seen be good in a scene. It was just great. He was relentless and unstoppable. He really shines.”
Although Murray and Lieberher pretty much dominate the movie, both McCarthy and Watts turn in nice supporting performances. McCarthy is consistently convincing in her role as a caring mother, and Watts is a hoot as a pregnant hooker with a thick Russian accent.
The film’s ending is both heartwarming and emotional, but I won’t reveal any more about that because to do so would spoil its impact. Let’s just say that some may need a tissue or two.
With so much carnage and insanity in the news these days, “St. Vincent” is the kind of film that can lift your spirits and perhaps begin to restore some faith in man’s humanity to man. Thus it earns the final score of a pleasantly surprising eight. If the film does nothing else, it should put a warm glow in your heart as you leave the theater, and we can all use that from time to time.