Divorced mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) moves into a new home in Brooklyn with her 12-year old son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Forced to work long hours, she has no choice but to leave Oliver in the care of their new neighbour, Vincent (Bill Murray), a retired curmudgeon with a penchant for alcohol and gambling. An odd friendship soon blossoms between the improbable pair. Together with pregnant stripper Daka (Naomi Watts), Vincent takes Oliver along on all the stops that make up his daily routine - the race track, a strip club, and the local dive bar. Vincent helps Oliver grow to become a man, while Oliver begins to see in Vincent something that no one else is able to: a misunderstood man with a good heart.
Review by Louise Keller:
Unexpected treasures beneath the surface are the focus of this disarmingly funny, quirky and highly enjoyable film in which Bill Murray shines as a crude, rude misfit whose brusque exterior masks the qualities of a genuine, if flawed diamond. The success of Theodore Melfi's debut feature relies heavily on Murray; his unique style, mannerisms and unpredictable, often inappropriate actions offering the film a welcome, off the wall freshness. Let's face it: who else could make a heavy-drinking, gambling, cursing man with a pregnant Russian stripper girlfriend and squashed-face Persian cat so likeable?
The set up is innocuous enough as we enter the world of Vincent (Murray), who wrecks his front fence by careless driving, followed by further demolishment when new neighbour Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) movies in next door. (Good to see McCarthy in a sympathetic role as a single mother, rather than that repeated crass, fat and now tired persona.) By then, we have learned that Vincent drinks a lot ('doing a Jane Fonda workout - one, two and stretch' he dryly declares at the bar as he 'exercises' lifting a glass of bourbon), is short on patience as well as cash (smashing ice with a hammer lands him with a mighty headache) and is trying to keep the bookie Zucko (Terrence Howard) at bay as he tries to collect on Vincent's horse gambling debts. And there's Daka (Naomi Watts), the tough-talking pregnant pro who declares in her fascinating Russian accent: 'Only freaks like the belly'. Watts is terrific - Daka's gruff, gimme-gimme exterior and skimpy pink panties later reveal far greater depth.
The key to getting a closer view of Vincent comes in the form of Maggie's young son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), a bright, slightly nerdy youngster who views his new babysitter (Vincent) as 'interesting', if grumpy. Full points to Felix the fluffy cat, whose close ups of naturally scowling facial expressions, prompt immediate titters through the audience.
While Oliver's 'education' may be less than conventional, the lessons vaguely related to maths, social studies and commerce/biology as Oliver is exposed to the races, the bar and the 'lady of the night' play out in amusing fashion. More importantly, it is the life lessons that are of the greatest value, Lieberher delivering a wonderfully assured performance as the youngster who laps up everything like a sponge. As the odd couple, he and Murray are marvelous together. But there are anomalies to Vincent's behaviour - why does he don a doctor's white coat when he regularly visits a pretty woman in a retirement home?
He doesn't have to be funny: just the casting of Chris O'Dowd's as Oliver's Catholic priest teacher delivers results. Asking his pupils to research 'a saint among us' provides the exposition's direction and there is no denying the lump-in-throat moment as Oliver makes his presentation before the school assembly. Melfi succeeds in keeping schmaltz at bay, while Murray does what Murray does best, making magic on screen - in this warm and uplifting interlude.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
St. Vincent features not one but two reprehensible characters who really have hearts of good underneath, in the shape of the eponymous Vincent (Bill Murray) and the Russian stripper & hooker, Daka (Naomi Watts). This feast of secret saints might have been a tad more authentic if they weren't so overdone and calculated. Bill Murray is the drawcard, always enjoyable as a rogue, witty eccentric and he does a great job with what he has. Vincent is delivered as the scumbag with no principles or scruples or manners - but there is a hidden side to him which remains out of sight until Act 3.
Daka is the pregnant, hard nosed stripper & call girl who services Vincent on a weekly basis, in a casual arrangement that provides slightly smutty laughs and Watts is well up to the task, Russian accent in place. John O'Dowd is excellently cast as the Irish priest teaching at Oliver's school, brimming with dry, worldly humour.
But it's the quietly confident performance from young newcomer Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver that glues the film's dramatic core together. Sometimes his script edges too close to over-smart for his age, but Jaeden manages to flatten out these wisdoms to advantage.
Melissa McCarthy is effective in this straight, dramatic role as Oliver's divorcing mother, whose new home comes with adjacent 'help' in the form of reluctant Vincent. He charges her for babysitting even when a neighbourly gesture would be more appropriate.
The film relies on Vincent's double-sided character to a very great extent, especially to show that even good human beings are often irrational and stupid. Boozing and gambling (and hookering) doesn't mean Vincent is a thoroughly bad person, although his redemptive qualities are somewhat constrained to a single source, his terminally ill wife.
There are plenty of comedic moments, as well as a few sobering ones, and the story is engaging, despite some holes and jumps in narrative; moreover, the film overplays its hand and overstates its theme, lessening its effect. Good intentions, though and to its great credit, it begins with a terrific little Irish joke.
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ST VINCENT (M)
CAST: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Chris O'Dowd, Terrence Howard, Nathan Corddry, Kimberly Quinn,
PRODUCER: Peter Chernin, Theodore Melfi, Fred Roos, Jenno Topping
DIRECTOR: Theodore Melfi
SCRIPT: Theodore Melfi
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Lindley
EDITOR: Sarah Flack
MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Inbal Weinberg
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2014