St. Vincent, 2014.
Directed by Theodore Melfi.
Starring Bill Murray, Jaeden Lieberher, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd and Terrence Howard.
A young boy living with his recently divorced mother gravitates toward his new bad-behaving neighbor and the two form an unlikely friendship.
St. Vincent is the latest “little indie that could” to grab audience’s attention on the big screen. It is the debut feature by the now well-known writer/director Theodore Melfi and it is one of the more heartwarming films of the year.
St. Vincent stars Bill Murray as Vincent MacKenna, a booze-drinking, gambling man who enjoys living life in the fast lane. He spends many a day running up tabs at the local dive bar and enjoys his nights with the companionship of Russian prostitute Daka (Naomi Watts). He doesn’t have a dime to his name –in fact his checking account is actually over $100 in the hole, preventing him from closing it out– so he finds himself taking just about every opportunity he can to make a quick buck. Making fraudulent claims and deals near-racketeering are not off-limits.
When the new, next door neighbors arrive and their moving truck accidentally downs a tree on top of Vincent’s car, he naturally seizes the opportunity to double down on the affair by lumping in his damaged fence (which he drove over the previous night). Maggie Bronstein (Melissa McCarthy) takes full responsibility for the blunder and not long after is shelling out even more cash to Vincent, whom she hires to babysit her 12-year old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Oliver takes to Vincent and soon begins learning all sorts of neat tricks, including his own version of the five-finger death punch.
St. Vincent is a Bill Murray vehicle. The primary reason people sit down in the theater is because his name is attached, and while Murray is outstanding as the hedonistic grump with the Brooklyn Irish accent, the true magic comes through his pairing with newcomer Lieberher. One of their finer moments in the film comes when Vincent decides to teach little Oliver how to defend himself from the unstoppable threat of the school bully. The result is sincere and effective, as is the remainder of their screen time together, where the two share a chemistry that will both warm and break your heart.
Murray and Lieberher’s fellow co-stars all additionally bring something to the table. McCarthy reminds audiences that she’s more than just a high-concept, slapstick comedy actress while the always-likeable Chris O’Dowd fits perfectly as Oliver’s Catholic schoolteacher, Father Geraghty. Watts bravely goes against type with Daka the stripper and, while garnering a few laughs, never reached the comedic heights of her hilarious performance in I Heart Huckabees. Terrence Howard also made a welcome appearance as Zucko, but with limited screen time his character was never allowed to flourish and ultimately felt out-of-place in the film.
St. Vincent is not without its own issues. It has a nice balance of both comedy and drama but at times encountered problems establishing and locking its tone. Comedic moments like Vincent and Oliver running from the horse track come off as serious while serious moments like Vincent gathering his wife’s belongings come off as comedic. Also, there were some fairly important story threads (which we won’t discuss for spoiler reasons) that went unanswered.
St. Vincent, even with its flaws, is a triumph for Melfi, who did a phenomenal job carving out a niche classic with a host of marketable qualities and an authentic indie charm. He breathes new life into the “old people behaving badly” genre by giving characters depth as well as redemptive qualities… and let’s just say it is undeniably refreshing.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
William Fanelli is a contributor to Flickering Myth – You can follow him on Twitter