St. Vincent (2014) – “The old guy, the mean one”

This is a heart warming little film that examines the complications of life through a clever comedic lens. It revolves around Bill Murray’s Vincent, a grouchy and generally unlikable Vietnam veteran, and his new neighbours. Their lives become more and more intertwined, despite aversions from both sides, as the ups and downs hit. Theodore Melfi, a writer-director mostly responsible for short films until now, has created a winning formula here, combining a touching and funny script with some great casting. No one other than Murray could quite make such an offensive and cantankerous character so enjoyable to watch. This isn’t the sort of emotional rollercoaster you’ll have to strap yourself in for, instead it focuses on striking a good balance between comedy and believable drama.

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The foil to Murray’s outwardly hedonistic Vincent is the tolerant young Oliver, played by up and coming talent Jaeden Lieberher who worked with Murray again on Cameron Crowe’s new one, Aloha. He and his just-divorced mother Maggie, Melissa McCarthy, are the new neighbours quite unwelcome in Vin’s life. That is, until the situation changes and he becomes Oliver’s “babysitter” to pick up some much needed cash. Oliver and Vin warm to each other and become fairly close despite Vin’s prickly exterior. Oliver learns some valuable life skills from his new mentor, including how to break a nose, and how to bet the trifecta. Alas, the world is a cruel place and complications arise for both Vincent, and Maggie and Oliver, which they can only try to make it through. Without saying too much, the ending is unnecessarily sappy, but nothing unforgivable.

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This really is a perfect part for Murray, who plays it perfectly. With Oliver’s help, Vincent’s caustic personality is partially dissolved to reveal that he is, indeed, a likeable person deep down. He just doesn’t care enough about anyone else to present anything otherwise. Lieberher handles acting alongside the great Murray with seeming ease, and plays the intelligent and put-upon Oliver in such a loveable way. In one of her more enjoyable roles of late, McCarthy channels the right blend of warmth and helplessness as the stressed and emotionally exhausted single mother. The timing between all three is a pleasure to watch. Chris O’Dowd, with a hilariously intelligent role as Oliver’s teacher, and Naomi Watts, for some reason playing a Russian “lady of the night,” round out the main cast excellently for Melfi’s script.

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While primarily a narrative focused film, St. Vincent still looks and sounds good, and happens to feature one of the best credit scenes put to celluloid. It’s so simple, and yet such a fitting epilogue to the film, while also serving the purpose of keeping bums in chairs. Cinematographer John Lindley, Field of Dreams, has created some beautiful framing, and get’s to be a little creative, particularly on that credit scene. The soundtrack is fun, and themed around the characters fairly cleverly. In fact, one of the highlights of the film is Murray’s rather memorable dancing to Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody To Love.

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For the majority of its sensible duration, St. Vincent really succeeds in being a fun and touching affair that doesn’t get too carried away. Writer and director Melfi has thrown in a dash of realism to keep his comedic narrative in check, and while some elements are left up in the air, it makes for a stronger picture overall. By the time the mushy climax comes, the film has already fulfilled its raison d’etre – we’ve fallen in love with the characters, laughed with them, possibly even wept for them. This is a funny film with emotional diversity, once again Murray is a scream, and if only for that alone it would still be worth checking out.

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