St. Vincent isn’t the next great Bill Murray movie, but it’s far from the worst
‘St. Vincent’ is a movie intended to remind you of how good Bill Murray is, even when his movies aren’t as good.
Ah, youth, where has it gone? Or conversely, ah, old age, why is it already here? The pairing and juxtaposition between young and old is a classic one, but there’s good reason for that. Sure, Dennis the Menace lets us indulge in our innocence and mischief while being glad Mr. Wilson, the adult, is around to pay attention. Having a kid and an older person play off each other highlights differences and similarities. People always have something to learn, especially from each other, and life isn’t over just because you’re old.
Sometimes (often) such movies are cliched or stupid, but they don’t have to be. The themes make sense, because they are universal. Everyone starts as a kid, and everyone grows old. There’s that parallel again, hinting its way at us with blunt unsubtle force. So in the end, it just comes down to the characters, and whether or not they’re worth watching at all.
St. Vincent is the latest movie from writer/director Ted Melfi in his theatrical debut, and considering that, he did a pretty decent job. Bill Murray plays the eponymous Vincent, a crabby, grumpy old curmudgeon with all sorts of problems. His Russian prostitute/girlfriend Daka (Naomi Watts) is pregnant and he’s running out of money in general. So Vincent is none too pleased when he gets new neighbors, a mother and son. Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is woman going through a messy divorce while her son Oliver (Jaeden Leberher) is small for his age and a bit awkward. As to be expected, he’s being bullied at school and has his keys stolen — but with his mom at work, grumpy ol’ Vincent agrees to babysit — for a price of course. Thus begins a classic bonding story between a kid and a very complicated role model. Vincent has layers; he’s not wholly bad or good, but he certainly makes a lot of mistakes. As this is an indie movie, it’s filled with sadness at times and happiness at others.
Will they help each other and learn something? Well, that’s not really the question, is it? The real question is if the path there is worth watching. And for me, it was worth it. Bill Murray is the obvious standout here, putting humor in lines that wouldn’t be funny otherwise, and pathos in moments that might’ve been maudlin for another performer. He’s great, and he elevates the movie from mediocre to decent. The good news is that the kid, Jaeden Leberher, is a very good partner for Bill Murray. He’s no Harold Ramis, but that’s okay. I found their interactions mostly charming, and pretty honest as well. Naomi Watts was kind of playing a cliche here, but … well, that’s how it was written. She ends up with some interesting things to do eventually, but there’s a lot to go through to get there. Melissa McCarthy was okay, I guess. I’m not a huge fan of hers.
Some of the plotlines that are introduced go nowhere, and others that should have resolutions don’t, but I can’t get into that without spoiling the movie. Suffice it to say, I had a few little doubts as the credits rolled, but Bill Murray is so charming, it’s hard to get that annoyed. Plus, the kid was legitimately good here, and that’s a great surprise — a decent child actor! I don’t want to forget Chris O’Dowd here as the teacher/priest at the Catholic school Oliver goes to, because he has the same sort of ability as Bill Murray to be effortlessly funny. He’s a standout as well. I have a feeling Bill Murray will be the one getting awards attention for this, deservedly so, but the movie isn’t anywhere close to the level he and the other actors give it. It looks nice enough and is paced only a bit sluggishly, so if you want to see a decent Bill Murray showcase, it’s worth your time. If you want a great one, watch Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day.