St. Vincent (2014) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language
Running Time: 102 min.

Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher, Naomi Watts, Chris O'Dowd, Terrence Howard, Kimberly Quinn, Ann Dowd, Dario Barosso
Director: Theodore Melfi
Screenplay: Theodore Melfi

Review published October 19, 2014

Uneven but ultimately funny and poignant enough to make it worthwhile, St. Vincent is successful primarily due to Bill Murray's (The Monuments Men, Hyde Park on Hudson) nuanced performance as the titular crabby antihero.  Murray has always excelled at playing the loveable rascal, and that talent is certainly put into play in a very big way with Vincent, one of his most likeable unlikeable characters he's ever played.  He elevates what could have been an extended episode of a TV sitcom into something worthwhile for traditional indie moviegoers.

Murray plays Vincent, a misanthropic alcoholic who is suffering from financial woes primarily due to his gambling addiction.  His bookie is after his payments, as is Vincent's regular "lady of the night", a Russian stripper named Daka (Watts, Sunlight Jr.), who is pregnant and needing him to fork over what he owes since a woman in her condition isn't getting as many johns coming her way.  To top it off his ill streak, his car is totaled when a moving truck crashes into the tree on his Brooklyn property and knocks a branch down on top of it. 

His new neighbor, soon-to-be-divorced mom Maggie (McCarthy, Tammy) agrees to pay for some of the damage incurred, and later agrees to pay Vincent to look after her 12-year-old son Oliver (Lieberher) when she has to work long hours at her nursing job.  Vincent's only in it for the money, really, telling the boy he can do his homework en route to the racetrack, local bar, or jaunts with Daka, but the two soon form an unlikely friendship could turn Vincent's perspective on people and life around, if the repercussions of his vices don't do him in first.

This kind of film has been done many times before, so you'll know where the film is going once the premise is set (i.e., the hard-edged curmudgeon shows his brashness is just a defense mechanism).  However, writer-director Ted Melfi (Winding Roads) allows for enough quirks in the characters to give the project some separation from the formula from time to time, even if there's a tendency on caricature over character (Watts' thickly accented Daka feels too over-the-top comic to buy in a film that is in a some part a drama). 

On the other hand, McCarthy eschews the physical slapstick that has categorized her recent film appearances; she gets in a few laughs, but most are using her wit than her weight.  Chris O'Dowd (Calvary) steals the scenes he's in as a sardonic teacher at Oliver's Catholic school.  Lieberher is stiff but not annoying as young Oliver, who learns how to toughen up in the absence of a father figure that has him gravitate toward Vincent as an unlikely role model.  Though it's not a common occurrence, Murray's track record working with child actors, from his first starring role in Meatballs to today, is impeccable.

Tearjerker moments toward the end of the film will be seen as welcome or manipulative, depending on how invested you are in the characters.  It worked well enough for me, even if it seems to be cribbing from About a Boy a bit much.  Regardless, your opinion of St. Vincent will likely be directly tied in with how much you enjoy Murray as a nuanced comic actor with surprising dramatic acting chops.  Murray can make scenes that could have seemed overly cartoonish, such as a period where he suffers slurred speech after suffering a setback in his health, and make them feel authentic, and subsequently heartbreaking.

Qwipster's rating::

2014 Vince Leo