“St. Vincent” Movie Review

     In a kind of comedic approach to the main character in Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino”, writer/director Theodore Melfi utilizes the genuine deadpan delivery of Bill Murray to fuel the story in his new film “St. Vincent”.  Though the plotting of the film will be familiar to most, given the multitude of films made that follow this exact story line, a smart screenplay and the presence of high end talent in front of the camera give plenty of reason to blanket the film with high praise.  If you can get past the fact nearly every character is a cliche and that each seems as though Melfi thought their appearance was mandatory to tell his story, you will be treated to a truly heartwarming experience depicting regular people all of us can in some way relate to.

     It has been quite sometime since Bill Murray stepped into the shoes of a lead role and his return is more than welcome as he channels several of his most famous characters (both Peter Venkman and John Winger come to mind), while infusing a sometimes suspect Brooklyn accent into his lines.  Murray plays Vincent, who is one of those movie characters we are meant to immediately judge based on what we initially see, only to find out later we were a little harsh and didn’t really know him after all.  In much the same way Eastwood’s Walt in “Gran Torino” was presented, Vincent lives in an old Brooklyn neighborhood by himself.  He makes frequent visits to the race track, drinks like a fish, and is seemingly up to his eye balls in gambling debt.  His only friendly human contact seems to be with a Russian prostitute named Daka (Naomi Watts), which is obviously a bond only as strong as the money he can afford to pay her.  When he arrives home one night, driving drunk, he backs into his front yard fence and knocks over his mailbox.  As he drags himself into his house, we are meant to believe Vincent is currently in a nose dive and probably doesn’t have much time left on Earth.

     The next day, Vincent wakes up after he passed out the previous night on his kitchen floor to the sound of a tree branch falling on his car.  When he comes out, he discovers he is about to have new neighbors who were moving in when the moving truck mishap caused the ruckus.  Of course, he’s not happy and chooses to confront the new neighbor for payment.  A newly single mom named Maggie, played by Melissa McCarthy, offers to pay him for the damages and introduces him to her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).  As you might guess, this marks the beginning of a relationship between Vincent and Oliver that is the result of the typical struggles a single mom has, such as having to work late unexpectedly and struggling to find someone to watch her son.

     What starts out as a rocky and inconvenient relationship, especially for Vincent, evolves due to some of the more common issues a child Oliver’s age would face and the solutions only a crass old man like Vincent would come up with.  Oliver is small and timid for a 12 year old and faces the typical bullying in school that would be expected when you’re the new kid, especially knowing how incredibly mean other kids can be.  Save to say, Vincent handles this issue just as it would’ve been handled some thirty or forty years ago, clearly illustrating to Oliver how well old school methods can sometimes be.  When Maggie decides to hire Vincent as her regular after school babysitter, a job he begrudgingly takes in order to pay off lingering gambling debts, the two become pals in a very Vincent sort of way.  A trip to the race track hits an unlikely 800-1 winner.  A visit to Vincent’s local watering hole has them eating like Kings.  And Oliver even meets Daka for the first time, where he’s told her occupation is a “lady of the night.”  He’s so utterly respectful and thankful the whole time and clearly longs for that male influence that’s missing, but it remains unclear whether or not Vincent is up for the responsibility.

     Murray remains top notch throughout the film and thanks to Melfi’s script has plenty of hilarious dialogue to deliver in a way only he can.  It’s refreshing to see McCarthy finally take a role that requires her to utilize her obvious acting talents, rather than the physical comedy created by her girth.  She’s the single mom whose been cheated on repeatedly and has a nasty custody trial to look forward to, but she also portrays Maggie with a very authentic and likable quality about her.  Perhaps the only actor with very little to offer here is Naomi Watts.  As Vincent’s very pregnant regular hooker, she waddles around with little to contribute to the story other than a few occasional quips about her lack of money and how much she hates her job as a stripper, all of which are spoken in an odd Russian accent.  Lieberher is outstanding as Oliver as he effectively becomes the true heart and soul of the story.  Terrence Howard has an small role as Vincent’s bookie and Chris O’Dowd appears briefly as Oliver’s Catholic School teacher.

     What sets Melfi’s film apart from other films that feature an older man who becomes a sort of father figure to a youngster in need (think “The Way Way Back”, “Mud”, or the aforementioned “Gran Torino”) is what I believe he is really trying to say with the characters and the overall story. Midway through, Vincent tells Maggie “you don’t know me” and that turns out to be a very important statement later.  When the layers begin to peel back and we get a glimpse as to what is behind the man, you come to realize going off of first impressions about someone, as we most often do, is likely the biggest mistake we can make in forming any kind of relationship.  On the outside, we see Vincent smoking, drinking, and treating an unsuspecting bank teller with complete disrespect.  Shouldn’t this tell us there is something going on on the inside?  In Melfi’s story, it takes a 12 year old boy to figure that out and clue the rest of in that Vincent’s not really a bad guy after all. GRADE: B