Overview: A drunk, bitter old man with a gambling problem and less than charming personality bonds with a young boy who struggles with fitting in his new school after his mother and father separate. 2014; The Weinstein Company; rated R; 102 minutes.
The Bill Murray Show: It is apparent in every scene of St. Vincent that Theodore Melfi crafted the starring role as a vehicle for Bill Murray to shine. And shine Murray does. Stubborn, sloppy, bitingly funny, cantankerous Vincent MacKenna is the perfect character for Murray to slip effortlessly into, like that favorite, worn-in, most comfortable jacket you shrug into and realize all over again how well it suits you. The smug arrogance combined with a carefully hidden good-hearted nature is strongly reminiscent of some of his most popular performances such as Phil in Groundhog Day and Dr. Peter Venkemen in Ghostbusters, with the addition of those qualities that creep their way into someone’s soul after dealing with a lifetime of taking care of everyone else. One can hope this inspiring comeback performance will be remembered during awards season.
Identity Crisis: Occasionally the film struggles slightly with its identity, trying to be both a meaningful indie drama and a big budget, star studded, blockbuster hit. Several times it runs the risk of slipping too far and becoming a forcibly constructed drama. Certain stretches have the film trying too hard to pull on the heart strings when it should maintain its focus on the feel good, light-hearted humor it gives us when Vincent is giving lessons in crass behavior and showing his new underage companion how to gamble mow dirt for dollars. But every time the story begins to slide too far into this danger zone, Murray graciously yanks it back out by reminding audiences that his character’s still an asshole. This is not a story of redemption, or one of a man who learns to treat others with more respect because of the influence of a child. And it’s only when St. Vincent tries to be these things that it fails. Vincent MacKenna is the same person at the end of the movie as he is at the beginning, he just lost a wife and gained a new friend.
The Support System: Jaeden Lieberher is a shining star as Oliver Bronstein, matching wits and impressively earning as many laughs as his older, more experienced counterpart. The pair’s on screen chemistry is a breath of fresh air, and it’s obvious in those carefree moments they share that the two are having just as much fun as we are, which makes the viewing experience all the more rewarding.
The only true disappointment in this film is that Melfi severely wasted the talent of Melissa McCarthy as Oliver’s mother, Maggie Bronstein. I had high hopes that she would be able to give a high caliber performance that doesn’t revolve around her typical vulgar, crude humor. McCarthy does indeed have a more serious role here, but it’s nearly nonexistent. She does well enough considering what she’s given to work with, but that’s not much. This is clearly Murray’s movie, with Leiberher as his endearing sidekick, which isn’t a bad thing at all, but where McCarthy and her fans are concerned, it’s a missed opportunity.