ST. VINCENT Review

St. Vincent is formula, but it's damn affecting formula. As soon as we meet the titular curmudgeon followed by the set-up that requires him to watch over the new neighbor kid we know where things are going. This is a film though that epitomizes the saying, "it's not about where you're going, it's about how you get there." There is nothing new to find in the intentions of the story or even in the way it is executed. Everything you will take away from St. Vincent is because of the characters, their individual arcs and how it comes together to not necessarily paint a pretty picture, but a humbling one. We are in a day and age where this, in many ways, feels like the culmination of Bill Murray's master plan. He has so effortlessly (or it at least seems that way) become more of a figure, a myth than that of an actual being that we find real value in seeing him let loose as much as he does here. There have only been a few occasions over the last decade or so where the legendary actor and comic has allowed himself this much visibility and unlike 2012's odd Hyde Park on Hudson this sees him in a role that is able to be more widely appreciated. You will recognize the schtick Murray is playing because he's done it before, but that doesn't make it any less fun to watch or when his stage of life and career are taken into consideration, any less affecting. I say affecting again because despite the fact we know where the film is going and we know what it wants us to feel it is still able to achieve a genuine emotional reaction from the audience and for that alone, the film deserves credit. It is also to the films credit that it doesn't overstay its welcome and allows the actors to flourish in their roles bringing the intended ideas to the surface and moving the audience in just the right way to where we are fine with the manipulation it is pulling over on us. St. Vincent is a crowd-pleaser in the biggest and best sense of the word in that it is a film I realize could be taken as overly-sentimental or even hokey, but that I could watch over and over again and still find reasons to smile every time. Sometimes, you need a film like that and St. Vincent would make a wonderful default to turn to for, if nothing else, the showcase it allows Murray.

Vincent (Bill Murray) teaches Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) how the world works.
Vincent MacKenna (Murray) is a grumpy and usually drunk old man that escapes to the drink for the seeming world of unfortunate wallows that surround him otherwise. He spends most of his days at the race track, his nights at the bar and his Tuesdays with Daka (Naomi Watts) a Russian stripper/prostitute with a heart of gold. I know, just reading that description makes you want to question how contrived and maybe even ridiculous this thing gets, but trust me when I say the character and Watts' rare grating performance are the only wedge driven between what makes the film feel less like good-hearted sentimentality and more like a mawkish exercise at times. Bottom line is, with Daka being his only real human interaction, Vince wants little to do with other people. So, when Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) moves in next door after leaving her cheating husband and taking a job as a tech at the local hospital Vince is eager to stay away. As these things go though, Maggie's hours force her to look for an after school babysitter for her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). 12 year-old Oliver is a scrawny kid forced into an unfamiliar Brooklyn environment where he finds it difficult to fend for himself and in need of a male role model in his life. As Maggie doesn't have much time on her hands with her new job the babysitting (for lack of a better word) duties fall into the lap of Vince who isn't totally opposed as long as Maggie is willing to pay. This doesn't seem like a bad idea at first given that despite his lack of warm and cuddly vibes, Vincent overall seems harmless. The good news is that this remains true throughout despite the basic descriptions of what Vincent allows his young counterpart to experience sounding pretty bad. They go to the horse races together where Vincent teaches Oliver what a trifecta is and how to play the odds while fending off his own bookie issues in Terrence Howard. There is also the time Vincent shows Oliver how to break a bully's nose and the one where he teaches him how a real man orders a drink at the bar. All good, right?

All of the things Vincent exposes his "eleven dollars an hour" to sound bad, but in the way the film unspools they are as harmless as the movie itself and leave us with a sense of appreciation in that these characters have found something to inspire them at a time in their lives where they couldn't feel less inspired. Both of these guys are not only dealing with the trials and tribulations of their own lives, but more they are just as affected in their daily routine by the trials and tribulations of those around them. It is in these excursions that the film is really able to transcend it's standard operating procedure and dig into something more relevant and impactful. As much as Vincent is perceived to be a grouch or a spiteful old man picking on people and unsuspecting victims because he cares only about himself and putting himself ahead as much as he can, there is of course more to him than this. Vincent is more than misunderstood, he is a multi-faceted person as we all are and Murray is able to bring that to light through not only his performance but his interaction with the young Oliver. This isn't simply a movie where the two leads learn from one another and find value again in appreciating life for what it is, but rather they are kept to the role of the teacher and the student. Vincent is who he is and as much as he dislikes hearing it, his life is what it is and though he'd no doubt like for it to improve financially, he has no desire to make any strides to change his situation. In being able to present this layered character though, Murray makes the transition from a curmudgeon of routine to one with more of a pep in his step with the opportunity of getting to "school" someone from the younger generation. Oliver is essentially taken through Vincent's day to day with him and while this allows the film to peel back the layers of Murray's character it also gives Murray a reason to clearly feel more proud in representing who he is to this young onlooker. We feel the electricity in Vincent's actions go from moderate to substantial and through that he not only inadvertently teaches Oliver valuable life lessons, but he teaches us as an audience how easy it is to take something and judge it only for what we see on the surface.

Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher and Naomi Watts in St. Vincent.
It is somewhat difficult to describe exactly what it is about the relationship between Oliver and Vincent that makes this experience all the more effective given that it does indeed prove to be predictable in an ending only a movie could have, but at the same time it makes sense for all the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph. The way in which Oliver slowly picks up on the complete picture of who Vincent is and what has made him this man is the most insightful idea the film has to offer and writer/director Theodore Melfi at least knows where he holds the power. Melfi remains focused throughout on the core relationship only allowing all of their extraneous issues to better shape who Vincent is and the arc he helps take Oliver on. As Oliver, Lieberher is perfectly capable of pulling off the slightly advanced kid actor persona that comes along with so many movie children these days. What is nice about the portrayal though is that Oliver is never too smart for his own good, but more than anything it can simply be chalked up to Oliver having a well-rounded and understanding personality. He is never the kid so far removed from the "in crowd" we take his transformation as implausible, but rather we buy the fact all he needed was a little push and maybe some politically incorrect guidance to get him to a place he felt good and comfortable with-to round out that well-rounded personality. It was also truly great to be able to see Melissa McCarthy do something different here. Her Maggie is a real change of pace for the actor as she isn't forced to play a character, but rather find a home in the humanity of a struggling single mom. This affords McCarthy the actor, not McCarthy the comic, to come away with a solid performance in what is really a limited amount of screen time. The aforementioned Watts is really the only element that doesn't mesh well with the rest of the palette making it feel cheaper than it actually is. This is Murray's show though and he completely owns it giving this man we think we know right off the bat more depth and more than enough reason for us to give him second and third chances; probably even fourth and fifth ones.