A-list actor and comedian Bill Murray is well-known in Hollywood for his timeless roles in Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, as well as his involvement in iconic Wes Anderson films such as The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom. Througout his career, Murray has been lauded for his effortless humor and heart. He is at his best playing the surly anti-hero with a chip on his shoulder (think Rushmore and Garfield), infusing likeability and depth into these unwieldy roles. St. Vincent is such a film, chronicling the mistrials of the cantankerous Vincent de Van Nuys, a drunken war veteran who is unwillingly recruited by next-door neighbor Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) to watch over her 12-year-old son.
As far as unlikely babysitters go, Vincent takes the cake. An ill-tempered curmudgeon with agoraphobic tendencies, the only two companions he is willing to tolerate are his equally grumpy Persian cat, Felix, and Data (Naomi Watts), a Russian prostitute whom he impregnated. When he is not cooped up in his dilapidated Brooklyn home in self-imposed solitude, he is gambling at the race track, knocking back his fifth glass of bourbon at the local dive bar, or spending time at the strip club where Data works.
Because he has a penchant for biting off more than he can chew, his hedonistic exploits often land him in financial ruin, and he’s looking for any and every opportunity to make a quick buck. The foul-mouthed and bedraggled former war hero seems like the last person one would ask to babysit a goldfish, let alone a precocious preteen, but that is exactly what the newly single mother Maggie decides to do when she moves in next door. Juggling a divorce and a job as a CAT scan technician at the local hospital, Maggie asks the embittered and irresponsible Vincent to look after her son on weekdays after school. Enticed by the $12 an hour position, he begrudgingly takes the runty Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) under his wing.
The unexpected and improbable friendship that blossoms between the ornery old man and the wide-eyed middle schooler serves as the heart and core of director Theodore Melfi’s cinematic debut, unearthing the redeemable qualities in Murray’s seemingly dispassionate character and offering newcomer Lieberher the chance to hold his own against an experienced and talented cast. As Vincent splits his time between instructing his protegee on how to gamble, cuss like a sailor, and break the nose of his most formidable school bully, we learn that there is a heart beneath that bristly exterior after all.
We also learn, toward the latter half of the film, that Murray’s character has been caring for a mysterious, Alzheimer’s-stricken woman named Sandy for the past few years. The uncouth and irresponsible harbinger of sin seems like the last person to be canonized as a saint, yet Melfi’s comedy sticks to its message: heroes can be found in the most unlikely of places.
While the lead role seems to be tailored to Murray’s exact sensibilities, St. Vincent’s star-studded ensemble is not entirely so well-cast. Atypical to McCarthy’s usual harebrained roles in comedies such as Bridesmaids, Identity Theft, and Tammy, Maggie serves as the straight-laced maternal figure to Murray’s Oscar the Grouch-esque character. McCarthy has the chance to showcase her unique talents as a dramatic actress for a change and test her acting chops beyond her zany typecast characters. While Maggie—in the hands of a less talented actress—could be resigned to a background stock character, McCarthy manages to render a nuanced and relatable performance. Chris O’Dowd, even in a minor role, is at his best in his portrayal of a kind-hearted, offbeat Catholic school teacher, lending believability to an otherwise unbelievable role. Watts, however, in her botched attempts at a Russian accent, is hit-or-miss when it comes to comedy and is noticeably mismatched in the film’s ensemble.
Ultimately, St. Vincent is a heart-warming film that combines elements of both comedy and drama. Murray’s outstanding performance as the eponymous Vincent, in all of his cranky wit and dyspeptic cynicism, is what puts the film above and beyond. Accordingly, Vincent’s relationship with the diminutive Oliver is the emotional core of St. Vincent and redeems the film from a formulaic plot. Without the clever build up, however, the film’s ending proves to be predictable. Nonetheless, for fans of Murray’s physical comedy and moviegoers desiring a sentimental, often times entertaining film, St. Vincent showcases Murray at his comedic finest.
Featured Image Courtesy of Chernin Entertainment