St. Vincent

Directed by Theodore Melfi
Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd and Jaeden Lieberher
In UK Cinemas December 5th, 2014

by Joanna Orland

While it’s technically the plot of the film, St. Vincent is not just another grumpy old man befriends young boy story.  Bill Murray is Vincent, a bitter and jaded old man who has been on a downward spiral of self-destruction since his wife’s dementia called for her to be institutionalized.  He’s mean, he drinks, he gambles, he owes money, he sleeps with prostitutes, and ticks all of the boxes in the surly old man category.  But what Vietnam war veteran Vincent also does is visit his wife every week, wash her laundry, take care of a pregnant prostitute’s medical bills and babysit his next door neighbor’s child Oliver.

Oliver and Vincent form a father-son bond as Vincent teaches the boy to fight, gamble and take a risk in life.  Oliver is currently lacking this role model as his parents have just divorced and his mom has whisked him away from his father to Vincent’s neighborhood.  Oliver is being bullied at school and struggling to fit in to his new one-parent life.  Oliver sees long past Vincent’s harsh exterior to see only the saintly good in him.

What makes this old man / young boy friendship movie different to all of the others are the character details and excellent performances.  Bill Murray clearly wants an Oscar and perhaps he may get a nomination for this role, although I would be shocked if he won it with the strong competition from other contenders including Michael Keaton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jake Gyllenhaal.  Murray thrives in a role like Vincent, a comedically dramatic portrayal is kind of his specialty if you look back at his work with directors Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch.  Classic Murray!

Melissa McCarthy is very well utilized here.  She’s often hit and miss in the roles she chooses, but here she doesn’t miss a beat in a very toned down performance from the otherwise larger than life comedic actress.  In fact, Melissa’s comedic talents are completely overshadowed by Naomi Watts’ in one of the strangest and most wonderful role reversal castings in cinematic history.  Whereas McCarthy plays it relatively straight, Watts’ role is an over-the-top characterization of a Russian prostitute!  With Watts’ dramatic background, this portrayal never strays into the farcical, but the comedy and drama are very well balanced.

Another thing that makes this old man / young boy friendship movie different to all of the others is that the boy is not sickeningly sweet or adorable.  Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver is just a boy.  While Oliver has his own story arc, he is primarily a catalyst for the other characters.  With the other characters being as rich as they are, this is exactly the purpose he should serve.

Overall, St. Vincent is an endearing and likeable comedy drama.  It has true heart and excellent performances.  Like I said – Classic Murray!


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