Sunday 2 November 2014

Movie Review: St. Vincent (2014)

A dramedy about an older man and a young boy helping each other to navigate life's tough patches, St. Vincent is sweet, satisfying and utterly predictable.

Vincent (Bill Murray) lives in a derelict house and drives a wreck of a car. He is unemployed, penniless, and a slob. His main activities include frequenting the local watering hole, frolicking with pregnant stripper Daka (Naomi Watts), and losing whatever money he scrounges at the racetrack. Single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) moves into the house next door with her 12 year old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie's job as a hospital technologist means long hours away from home, and she pleads with Vincent to babysit Oliver after school.

Desperate for money, he agrees against his better judgement. Vincent helps Oliver to deal with school bullies and introduces him to the strip club and the horse races. The two gradually establish a bond, Vincent rediscovering what responsibility for another person means, and Oliver growing up and unearthing the surprisingly real person behind the thick crust of Vincent's facade. But money and health problems will catch up with Vincent, threatening his burgeoning relationship with the new neighbours.

A character study full of pathos and humour, St. Vincent is all about Bill Murray's performance. He is the singular driving force behind the film, and gives it a full heart and earthy soul worth discovering. Murray provides Vincent with a sad veneer, a man seemingly resigned to live out the rest of his days in squalor while avoiding loan sharks and any meaningful contact with other human beings. But he always hints that he is hiding something more, a warmth still emanating deep within, just waiting to be tenderly exposed.

Oliver is the catalyst, and unfortunately for the movie, once the story reveals its direction it is as predictable as they come. Man helps boy become a man, boy helps man rediscover a passion for life, and both are reminded that every individual is worth celebrating. Director and screenwriter Theodore Melfi delivers it all with simplicity, some comedy and plenty of affection, and wisely limits the running time to just over 100 minutes, but St. Vincent offers little to genuinely stimulate the memory.

Melissa McCarthy is mercifully restrained, finally able to be funny without slipping into an overboard persona. Naomi Watts proves her range with the latest screen incarnation of a whore/stripper with a heart of gold, this time with the eccentric twist of also being very pregnant. She gradually starts stealing every scene she's in as the movie progresses, as Daka and Oliver reach the instinctive and unspoken understanding that they are both good for Vincent.

Murray has matured into a grizzled comedy veteran, his caustic style now suited to questioning what the world is coming to and pining for quieter, less complicated days. St. Vincent is a perfectly suitable role, but also an undemanding movie.

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