In St. Vincent, master-of-dead-pan-comedy Bill Murray plays an older gentleman who wants to live alone but finds it hard once a mother and son move in next door. Why? Because she’s too busy with her job and she needs him to babysit for a while and blah-blah-blah. Clap twice if you’ve seen it done before. In the case of St. Vincent, however, you might look past it, and it’s all thanks to Mr. Murray, a genius in the realm of comedy, who delivers a funny performance that sometimes channels Eastwood’s in Gran Torino before eventually taking a sharp dramatic turn for the better.
Murray plays Vincent, a retired war veteran that gets his rocks off by gambling at horse races and banging “the woman of the night” (an out of place Naomi Watts, using an accent that made me want to punch myself in the face numerous times). After knocking down his own fence by being clumsy while backing his car into the driveway, the new neighbors’ moving crew backs into his tree, severing a branch and crushing his car. Of course, Vincent decides to milk the tree killers in every way he can, so he blames them for the fence too. This is the moment I really understood just who Vincent was as a character. He’s old, he’s mean, and he needs every penny he can get. In an effort to pay him for the accident, the mom (Melissa McCarthy) tries everything she can, but Murray has another suggestion. He’ll watch her kid (Jaeden Lieberher, in his first feature) in exchange for hourly pay to make up for the damage. But he doesn’t want to admit that he’s grown fond of the kid, and he may just need him to have true happiness.
Again, it doesn’t tread any new ground, but who’s asking it to do so? It wouldn’t hurt, but when I walked into St. Vincent (knowing nothing about the plot), I just wanted to see if Bill Murray could keep me entertained for a feature length running time, and he did just that. Murray is a household name for a reason. He’s golden in just about everything, from classics like Ghostbusters to really funny comedies like What About Bob? This is his third feature in 2014, and it lands right in-between The Grand Budapest Hotel (which I really loved) and The Monuments Men (which I really didn’t). For the first half of St. Vincent, Murray is funny in all the ways the “mean-old-man-next-door” should be, and then, upon the arrival of the second half (more like the third act), something happens (which I will not spoil) that shifts Murray’s performance into unexpected territory and his performance matches the shift. In fact, it exceeds it. I would love to continue to ramble on and on about Bill Murray because I love him, but he isn’t the only actor in the film.
What’s the story with Melissa McCarthy? Earlier this year her “comedy” Tammy turned out to be not so much of a comedy after all. It also completely failed at the humor it attempted, save for a few moments of McCarthy being herself. In the end, it was a drama, but the ads tried to market it as anything but. In the case of St. Vincent, I do admit that it’s much funnier than Tammy, but McCarthy isn’t. It isn’t really her fault, but she’s really dull and it left me wondering just how many more times we’re going to see her play characters who have one sob-story-scene followed by tears welling up in her eyes per movie. It’s getting rather annoying, and that’s coming from someone who likes most of her first movies (Bridesmaids is funny and I really like This is 40). Another performance I really enjoyed was that of Chris O’Dowd, who plays a teacher at the catholic school that Oliver (McCarthy’s character’s son) attends. And don’t let me forget about Jaeden Lieberher who gives a great make-it-or-break-it performance as Oliver. Good child actors aren’t easy to come by these days, but he does a great job and he has excellent chemistry with Bill Murray.
Terrance Howard is wasted in a very limited role and Naomi Watts is seriously miscast as a Russian prostitute who engages in certain activities with Murray (can you guess?), but St. Vincent has just enough to garner a watch, and it is rather enjoyable. Bill Murray gives a solid performance that goes from funny to sentimental and Jaeden Lieberher is a great child companion to him. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this plot in action, but I was able to look past it once Murray began his Eastwood-like grumblings. It’s a fun watch, but I think it’s one that older folks will enjoy more than younger ones.