REVIEW: St. Vincent Not Just Another Lovable Curmudgeon

I’m a sucker for movies like St. Vincent. You know the ones… a big-name star plays a cranky, eccentric character who learns not to be such a bad person when another character, usually a precocious child, unexpectedly enters his/her life. Two examples spring to mind: As Good As It Gets (Jack Nicholson) and Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood). There are many others. I know exactly what to expect, but against all efforts on my part, they catch me off guard, which normally involves the shedding of a tear or two.

In St. Vincent, it’s Bill Murray in the curmudgeon’s role. His Vincent is an angry, stubborn, unpleasant Vietnam vet whose lifestyle with alcohol, gambling and prostitutes has left him nearly destitute. His life changes when Maggie, a woman in mid-divorce (Melissa McCarthy) moves into the house next door with her young son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). As unforeseen events force Vincent to become an impromptu babysitter, the two eventually bond and both of their lives change forever.





With such a familiar formula, what makes a movie like St. Vincent work? First of all, it can’t be sentimental. With alcohol, gambling and prostitutes, St. Vincent is anything but sentimental. At times, it’s downright rough. In fact, it’s hard to believe it’s rated only PG13, particularly considering the scene where Daka, the pregnant stripper played by an unrecognizable Naomi Watts, bounces on top of Vincent during sex, her swollen belly bumping against his. It’s hard to identify a life lesson for a little boy in that carnal act.

Next, the curmudgeon must be a fully realized character, not a stereotypical caricature. It helps that Bill Murray has developed into such a terrific dramatic actor. Likewise, it helps that there’s more to the character than first appears. Sure, he’s a bastard to anyone he meets, but who of those people take the time to get to know him? That’s one of St. Vincent’s lessons; again, not terribly original, but fresh within the context: don’t judge a book by its cover. You hear the accusation in all kinds of movies, “You don’t know anything about me!” It’s significant in this case.

Next, you must have a supporting cast that elevates the story. In St. Vincent, the entire cast is terrific. McCarthy is sad and vulnerable. Liberher is sympathetic without being precious. Chris O’Dowd is my favorite as Brother Geraghty, Oliver’s Catholic school teacher. Terrence Howard is unusually restrained as Zucko, the guy from the race track to whom Vincent owes money. The closest to caricature is Watts as Daka; however, her story takes a sweet, unexpected turn that caused me to disregard that fact.



Finally, you’ve got to have a smart, funny script held with tight reigns by a skilled director. Theodore Melfi both wrote and directed St. Vincent and it’s clear that the project was close to his heart. Let’s emphasize the “funny” part. There have to be genuine, character driven laughs, which St. Vincent luckily has in abundance. I think my previously mentioned tears came from laughter as much as they did from the movie’s emotional conclusion. I guess that’s the trick: delivering your message in a package that audiences enjoy.

I enjoyed St. Vincent from deep inside. I don’t want to know the person who doesn’t. Maybe you saw the trailer and thought it looked familiar. Watch it anyway! Familiarity doesn’t seem to keep audiences away from the box office with the menu of reboots, sequels and superhero movies that Hollywood keeps preparing. Nothing’s wrong with entertainment for entertainment’s sake, but a little substance now and then never hurt anyone.The wonderful thing about St. Vincent is that you get both: substance with a whole lot of entertainment.

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