Film Review: “St. Vincent” directed by Theodore Melfi, 2014 We’re all familiar with the curmudgeon character made popular by Archie Bunker on TV. Clint Eastwood played a similar character in “Gran Torino” and “Trouble with the Curve.” In “St. Vincent,” Bill Murray’s cantankerous neighbor is a refreshing take on the trope.
Vincent (Murray) is worse than the other cinematic grumpy old men we know. He’s a Vietnam vet who likes to drink and hire a pregnant Russian hooker, Daka (Naomi Watts), on a regular basis even though he’s broke. While drunk, he crashes his car through his fence, but he convinces his new neighbor, Maggie ((Melissa McCarthy), that the destruction of his property was the fault of the movers she hired.
The misanthropic Vincent doesn’t like Maggie and vice versa, but she’s forced to ask him to babysit her son, Oliver (Jaeden Liebeher), after school because she doesn’t know many people in the neighborhood. He accepts the offer because he needs the cash.
It turns out to be the best thing for both the boy and the old man. Vincent feeds Oliver sardines, which he calls “sushi.” He teaches the boy (he’s about 11 or 12 years old), who’s bullied in school, how to fight. He takes him to a bar and a horse-racing track. He even introduces Daka to Oliver.
As the two forge an unlikely friendship, we find out that Oliver and his overworked mother moved to Brooklyn to get away from his philandering father. Oliver attends a Catholic school although he’s Jewish.
We also learn more about Vincent. His wife is in a nursing home he can’t afford; he even resorts to stealing drugs from the receptionist’s counter to resell them. He’s kind to Daka, whom he takes to the doctor for a prenatal checkup.
Just as Oliver and Vincent are getting along fine, something happens (which I won’t reveal) that infuriates Maggie and forces her to break off ties with Vincent. Oliver is reluctant to give up the friendship, until Vincent unleashes his meanest streak that effectively ends it. In school, Oliver has to find a saint in his midst as part of a school project. In spite of everything, he chooses Vincent, hence the movie’s title.
Bill Murray Shines
This movie will not gain raves for its originality, but the performances were superb. McCarthy and Watts didn’t play their usual roles. McCarthy played it straight, while Watts revealed her little-known comedic talent. Liebeher was the right choice for the part, sweet and innocent without being annoying.
Bill Murray shone brightly. I’m not a fan of Murray’s earlier movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day.” I only began to appreciate his poker face and dry wit as he got older, beginning with “Lost in Translation” and followed by a host of small gems, such as “Broken Flowers,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” and even his cameo in “Zombieland.”
Murray stayed true to his character until the movie’s last scene, after the boy has declared him a “saint.” At this point, we expect him to change. But, no, he’s shown lounging and smoking in his run-down backyard and at the same time watering a dying plant—in all seriousness, with his winning deadpan expression.