St Vincent (2014) – Review

Directed by Theodore Melfi
Written by Theodore Melfi
Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher
A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door.

Everyone it seems, is guilty of it. You get old and you become a curmudgeonly old grump. This trait is especially effective on screen if you were once an (some would say) unparallelled comedic force. Feisty old men that refuse to get old gracefully are not new to Hollywood, but few do justice to this pigeon-hole as well as Bill Murray, both personally (if you believe the stories) and professionally (a remarkable and continuing talent as featured here).
Murray plays the titular Vincent, a Vietnam veteran with more going on than he would have you believe. Openly unapproachable and just plain old rude (despite retaining a razor sharp wit), he lives alone. Despite his headlong hurtle into the grave, he has a passion for gambling on horses and enjoys the regular night-time company of a recently pregnant eastern European stripper/call-girl played here by Naomi Watts in one of her most enjoyable performances for years.
But look deeper under Vincent’s layers and there is much more to this rounded character arc than meets the eye. Befriended by Oliver (Lieberher), the son of new neighbour Maggie (McCarthy), a rummage into this life now grasped tells of an imminently good soul yearning to creep out from under the setbacks and trials it has been dealing with for far too long. When Oliver comes along, this bad-tempered steam train just keep on going, but it’s when it starts to come off the rails that his new found friends make him realise that maybe he does have more than he had been lamenting a loss of.
Darkly humorous, St Vincent is written impressively and delivered admirably. McCarthy, for once playing the straight chick to the feisty Murray and cartoonish Watts, has moments of genuinely great acting in several scenes which do her credibility no harm at all and proves that she is much, much more than just a big girl who made her friends laugh at school because it was the only way she could make any friends.

Wry, sarcastic and pointed are all perfectly good labels to throw at the script and this could easily have failed in the hands of lesser performers. All four of the main cast here needed to be on top form to make this work and thankfully this was the case. Jaeden Lieberher particularly shines for one so young, on occasion even trumping the odd scene in front of his elders and betters.

In all, St Vincent is, like its main character, something of an acquired taste. Indie-fans will hug it tightly of course, but more mainstream audiences will be expecting something else to happen, possibly overlooking the fragile and beautiful human stories that are being told, in favour of something less demanding and more consumable with less need for digestion.

Great performances, amiable and witty direction with a matching script makes this one to watch for those that like their acting and storytelling a bit ore challenging than the usual fare. Entertaining and thought-provoking, St Vincent is Murray’s project through and through, almost coming off as cliched by the final act, but nonetheless, this is still impressive stuff from everyone, proving McCarthy’s range and Murray’s longevity.

Out Dec 5th 2014 in the UK

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