Movie Review: St. Vincent (2014)
by Alan F. Zundel
If you enjoy Bill Murray, you’ll enjoy “St. Vincent.” It’s that simple.
I’ve been a Murray fan since his stint on Saturday Night Live in the ’70s, and my wife was converted by “Groundhog Day” back in 1993. We’ve seen a lot of Murray movies since then. He always adds something valuable to a movie, but not every movie he’s in is a winner.
We saw the previews of “St. Vincent” when it was first released and feared it was a retread of the themes done to perfection in “Groundhog Day,” with Murray as the jerk who turns around and becomes a better person. Our expectation of seeing a lesser version of a favorite movie dampened our interest enough to keep us from seeing it before it disappeared from theaters.
Well, we finally got around to watching it on DVD and were both pleasantly surprised. It’s not a retread at all. Murray creates a memorably different character from his Phil of “Groundhog Day,” even though this role, like that of Phil, fits him like a well-worn sneaker.
He stars as Vincent MacKenna, an irascible old Brooklyn guy having a run of very bad luck. Nothing is funnier than Murray’s hangdog look and sarcastic mutterings when being dumped on by fate. (It occurred to me just now that in those respects he’s inherited the mantle of the late, great W.C. Fields.)
Vin needs money badly, and he sees a glimmer of a possibility when new neighbor Maggie is desperate for someone to sit her 12-year old son Oliver. Vin steps in and gives the kid a few life lessons to boot, most of them ones Maggie would disapprove of—if she knew about it. Oliver learns about breaking a bully’s nose, horse racing, and ladies of the night, among other things.
Among those other things are secrets about Vin that lead Oliver to choose him as the subject of a class project on “living saints.” Of course in the climax Oliver also teaches Vin a thing or two, but the movie doesn’t try to make a tear-jerker out of it. It is touching but with a light touch, not a heavy one. And Vin doesn’t really change all that much at the end, much to our relief.
Surprisingly for such a nicely done movie with a class-A cast, it was writer/director Theodore Melfi’s first. It’s not a great movie, but it is a great showcase for Murray, who doesn’t always get a chance to do the kind of shtick audiences love best from him. Melfi uses him to good effect, giving him lots of screen time and a well-constructed script. And of course, laugh lines aplenty.
Melissa McCarthy as Maggie generally plays her role straight, and proves the old saying that it takes a good comic to be a great straight-man. I knew McCarthy from some of her comedy roles—she was terrific in “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock—but didn’t know she could pull off a struggling single mother with such authenticity.
Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver also does an impressive job, coming across as a genuine sweet kid instead of a movie kid. Chris O’Dowd adds extra laughs as Oliver’s school teacher, Brother Geraghty. The only false note in the cast is Naomi Watts as a pregnant prostitute in Vin’s employ. I couldn’t decide if it was the character that didn’t fit the movie or she was simply miscast, as Watts has to play it funny and tries gamely but the performance doesn’t quite work.
Otherwise, everything works and, besides, if you see this you are really going to see it because of Murray. You’ll get plenty of him, and at his best.
So if you enjoy Bill Murray, get “St. Vincent” and enjoy.