In our lives, we meet all different types of elderly folk. We all have met the cheery, supportive, and gracious who put an immediate smile on our faces and we just can’t get enough of them. Then there are the ones who you see in passing, but they still manage a wave or a smile. However, you can’t forget the reclusive, crabby, and rude elders who you can only hope are never around when you are. We all have these predetermined thoughts of what those people are like, but we don’t know them at all or what all they’ve experienced in there long lives. All it takes is some getting to know them, in order to peel back that tough exterior shell.
Vincent (Bill Murray) isn’t the nice, sweet old man whom you see sitting by himself at the coffee shop. Rather, Vincent is an emotionless, mean-spirited, and sarcastic old man who doesn’t have much time for anyone. When he’s not fooling around with the pregnant “woman of the night” Daka (Naomi Watts), he’s lounging about his house, getting drunk, or gambling away the little bit of money that he has left. When new neighbors move in next door, Vincent couldn’t be less enthused. Especially because there’s a young boy that he’s sure will come around the house to talk.
Sure enough, when little Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) has his phone, wallet, and keys stolen at his new school, he goes next door and asks Mr. Vincent if he can stay until his mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) gets home. Reluctantly, Vincent accepts because he convinces Maggie to pay him for babysitting services after school. It’s during those babysitting hours that Vincent exposes Oliver to a very different lifestyle and they both grow to learn a lot about one another. They may spar with their wit, but they also grow fond of each other, which could mean good and bad things in the eyes of others.
St. Vincent is the little indie that could, combining lighthearted comedy with momentary dram, ultimately culminating into a surprisingly good time at the theater. This little film played very well at the Toronto International Film Festival and I really didn’t know much about it, until I was part-way through the film. Immediately, I found myself having a similar sensation to when I saw The Way Way Back, only that film is still better. That’s not to say that this film isn’t great though, because its wonderful performances and messages make it an easy win in my books. To call it a crowd-pleaser would be accurate, as it felt like everyone in the audience was laughing, smiling, crying, and happily following along with this film.
Bill Murray hasn’t been this great in a long while and it’s a great feeling to see him return to form here. He plays a crotchety old man who, on the surface, really is a terrible man that just ruins every opportunity that he gets in life. He’s a smartass and he’s exploitative, but he’s also pretty funny. His off-putting nature deflects most people, but he does have amazing chemistry with young Lieberher, who sees past the facade. Murray’s quick-wit and endless banter make him a very likable character, despite all his obvious flaws. When we get to see a softer side of his character, we grow to like him even more and we wish this was the character that we could have seen him play more often.
Jaeden Lieberher is the child whom we see the world though and his life is quite an unusual one. While he may be more intelligent and wittier than the other kids, he’s still small and scrawny and easy to pick on. Upon befriending Murray, Lieberher grows up in some ways and starts fending for himself. He may be learning some lessons that he shouldn’t even need for years to come, but he clearly enjoys being around Murray and his sweetness will always leave you smiling. His humor is also rather enjoyable, as he often butts heads with O’Dowd, whom like always, is an absolute riot and one of the standout parts of the film. Everything leads up to the film’s undeniably sweet (if a little cliche) finale and that’s when both Lieberher and Murray really shine.
Melissa McCarthy is really toned down in her performance here, acting more as a “serious” woman than a flat-out comedic one. She still has her moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, but it’s so refreshing to see her drop that act and play someone who feels real. She hates her current life situation, but she’s trying all she can to make sure she keeps her son safe. Naomi Watts, on the other hand, is hardly recognizable as a Russian “lady of the night” and she gets to be the funniest she’s ever been. She and McCarthy get some funny scenes together and they prove that we don’t always have to rely on McCarthy to play the same character, in order for us to like her or laugh when she’s not trying so hard. Watts absolutely killed me and I’m so glad that she took this risk and had fun with it too.
The story would be the weakest link in this film, as most everything that happens seems a bit too fantastical. Not that it isn’t enjoyable, but there are some elements that seemed too convenient for the storytelling. Problems are solved relatively easy and then are wrapped with a bow in the end. Certain characters just cease to exist in the end of the film (looking at you Terrence Howard) and their stories are just unimportant. I still don’t by the whole “elementary school kids swear at each other and beat each other up” and no one happens to see it. The script wares thin in the middle, but it’s nice that the third-act revives this film.
St. Vincent, despite some of its writing flaws, still wins you over in the end and it’s really hard to walk away without a smile on your face. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film and I was pleased that I got to see Bill Murray in one of his better roles to date. We get to see new things from McCarthy and Watts and we get to meet a fine young actor who will tug at your heart strings. There’s never enough Chris O’Dowd when he’s in a supporting role, but his sarcasm is a huge bonus in this film and he certainly makes the most of his time. Whether you need a pick-me-up, a smile, or if you’re looking for an uplifting time at the movies, I think I know just the Saint for you.
St. Vincent Trailer