Writer/director Theodore Melfi has delivered a fun, often heart-felt film that is at its very least an entertaining time. But the film’s ability to channel the truth about certain characters and engage audiences will truly be its lasting achievement.
Premise: A recently latch-keyed child finds an unlikely friend and with a strange misanthrope next door. Result: A bit clichéd in terms of general story but some great performances, a fun script and a memorable resolution will keep this film afloat.
Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and his mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) are down on their luck. Fleeing a cheating husband, Maggie has taken her adoptive son, plopped him in a local Catholic School with Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd) and on a hapless route to latch-key neglect.
Next door, wallowing in booze and cynicism is Vincent (Bill Murray), a dime-store curmudgeon supposedly focused on nothing more than his gambling, boozing, whoring and complaining.
In a world where things go well, these two creatures, the precocious Oliver and the horrid Vincent, would never meet. But the world isn’t perfect, and in what can only be described as a desperate, catastrophic lack of judgment, Maggie allows Vincent to become Oliver’s babysitter. A paid babysitter.
But desperation is a real alibi in today’s world and so when Vincent takes the boy to bars, race tracks and interacts with a pregnant hooker named Daka (Naomi Watts), it is easy to overlook these massive, almost criminal faults and instead focus on the friendship that these two begin to forge.
Vincent teaches Oliver to defend himself (a tactic that works well against local bully Rob Ocinski -Dario Barosso) and appears, not just on the surface, to actually care for the boy. But Vincent is a cranky blotto, so the world doesn’t always see past the crass comments and the salty sensibilities.
And so the power of the film is the ability to see a man for what is more than the surface, to realize that we are more than the sum of our sins; we are the culmination of those right choices, those voices out of humanity and kindness that are forever overlooked.
The acting in the film helps us move past some clichéd moments. Murray is perfect as always, channeling his industry-leading curmudgeon like with Phil (Groundhog Day) and Frank Cross (Scrooged) and delivering someone we love to hate but hope to love.
McCarthy is also quite strong, allowing herself to play understated on the big screen, a role that is as precious as unicorns and just as delicious. Watts is actually quite funny in her role as preggers McHooker and certainly adds some sentimental value as the scenes march on. And even O’Dowd, whose comedy sometimes resembles the trajectory of a one-trick pony, is wonderful, hilarious in every scene and a remarkable spot-on addition.
But, of course, the film would not have been the same without Lieberher, whose performance is stunning. This is not an Oscar-winning performance, by any means, but more because of the material than the performance. Lieberher is hilarious, precocious, and perfect in every scene. By the end there should be a line to be this kid’s babysitter.
In the end, St. Vincent has a few unique twists and a heartfelt, tear-jerker resolution that is well-earned. It is not necessarily one for the ages like many of Murray or McCarthy’s other films, but it is well worth the attention. Funny from beginning to end, and poignant when it needs to be, St. Vincent is a devilish good time…it’s a great time -_-
Rating: 7- A refreshing Champagne that a cute bartender comp’d you!