Director: Theodore Melfi
Cast: Bill Murray, Jaeden Lieberher, Naomi Watts, Melissa McCarthy, Terence Howard and Chris O’Dowd
Running Time: 102 minutes
Release Date: December 5th
It’s a testament to the power of Bill Murray that St. Vincent works so well. The premise is as familiar and threadbare as the lead character’s favourite dive bar, and the film often runs the risk of becoming saccharine. But debut director Theodore Melfi and his talented cast sprinkle just enough vinegar to prevent it from becoming too sweet.
It’s essentially the same story as About a Boy, Bad Santa and A Christmas Carol (which of course, got the Murray treatment with Scrooged) – a grouchy old guy gets unexpected redemption through a friendship with an outcast child.
Vin (Murray) is a cranky, hard-drinking, gambling loner who just got new neighbours; newly single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her wimpy son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). The only other people in Vin’s life up to now are a heavily pregnant Russian prostitute, Daka (Naomi Watts), his angry bookie, Zuko (Terence Howard) and a sick family member. This being a film, Chris O’Dowd turns up too, as Oliver’s teacher, Brother Geraghty.
One day a desperate Maggie asks Vin to babysit Oliver, and the old curmudgeon and innocent boy develop an unlikely friendship.
Yes, it’s a familiar, sentimental idea and, no, you don’t get any special praise for seeing where it’s all going. However, it’s so funny, warm and well performed, that I didn’t care: Murray is always great, and he’s a rare actor who can play a whoring, hostile old drunk and still remain loveable. His comic style suits this film perfectly and he has the chops for the more serious shifts in tone.
Murray’s reputation has grown in recent years, mostly thanks to Lost in Translation, and now it seems, in his 60s, that filmmakers are finding the best use for him – using his hangdog sad face for pathos, while still mining his understated, gently rebellious comic style. It also helps that Murray is a movie star of no vanity.
I liked how his character changes just enough to be redeemed, but not too much. Unlike Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, it’s not a full reversal, but it’s enough to make a big difference to his life and to those around him.
Elsewhere, Melissa McCarthy is very likeable, Chris O’Dowd acquits himself well, Naomi Watts (in a very rare comic performance) is funny as Daka the prostitute and Terence Howard is menacing. But special praise should go to Jaeden Lieberher, who’s cute, but also very vulnerable and endearing as the kid Oliver. It’s easy to see how he could break down an angry loner’s barriers and win them over.