St. Vincent is a return to form for Bill Murray, whose last memorable role was a cameo of himself in Zombieland (2009), a movie in which he pretended to be a zombie and got the single biggest laugh from the audience. It takes some kind of skill to make such an impact in less than 10 minutes, to walk into a comedy halfway and walk out dragging the rest of the cast with you. Here, Murray has more time to flex his emotional muscle over the canvas of St. Vincent. It’s a pity then that the canvas contracts emotional atrophy.
The movie has a good heart and a decent childlike spirit, which is wonderful respite from the clash boom bang of everything else in theatres right now, but it’s stunted and lacks the kind of originality to carry it above some of its forebears. Written by first timer Theodore Melfi, the story is sweet but painfully contrived around an angry damaged old geezer who has to deal with his new neighbours. I am reminded of Clint Eastwood’s xenophobic war veteran in the more accomplished Gran Torino (2008), who began as a wretch and ended as a hero admired by his Korean neighbours. A crossover should be made; I’d pay good money to see Vincent MacKenna square off against Walt Kowalski in a geriatric showdown.
The neighbours in St. Vincent are not Korean but white, and the plot doesn’t revolve around gangs but relationships. Vincent (Murray) is a lonely man who lives in a cycle of alcohol, smokes, sex, gambling and debt, not necessarily in that order. He drives an old Chrysler Lebaron that he calls a classic but treats like a luxury bulldozer.
His credit rating is in the negative. Whatever money he gets comes from luck at the racetrack and selling prescribed drugs to his hooker’s Eastern European dealers. The hooker, Daka, is played by Naomi Watts, who is beautiful and confidently talented and has been in better movies playing better characters. What is she doing here, with that thick accent that seems borrowed begrudgingly from the joke shop?
Vincent’s solitary world is shaken crudely when his neighbours movie in and flatten his fence. We meet Maggie (Melissa McCarthy, finally subdued), an MRI assistant at the local hospital, and her son Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher), who is about 10 and finds Abbott and Costello funny despite never having heard of them. Bless him.
Maggie, having to punch in extra shifts at work whenever the casual staff deems it unnecessary to turn up, has little time for Oliver, who is placed in Vincent’s care and is soon betting on horses with the best of them.
So forms the unbreakable bond between grumpy old man and chirpy young boy that will eventually lead to a sappy denouement abundantly explaining, against our best efforts, why Vincent is in fact a saint. Along the way much must happen to prove this, but it’s nothing we wouldn’t have already seen coming.
The progression of St. Vincent follows the formula of well-oiled dramas and comedies in which unwilling individuals must, through unforeseen and unwanted circumstances, deal with people who are not their intellectual, emotional or physical equals, only to emerge at the end forgetting why they were so unwilling in the first place. The formula works, which is why movies like The Pacifier (2005) and The Game Plan (2007) were made, though not necessarily better. Like those two movies, St. Vincent has come a couple of decades too late. If this was a movie of the 1970s or 1980s, it might have been something grand. Today it seems more like a well-made retread garnished with charming characters.
Best Moment | Murray singing “Shelter From The Storm” horribly.
Worst Moment | Any scene with Chris O’Dowd. I didn’t buy his character for a second. He seemed more like a standup comic than a priest playing a teacher.