Murray is saintly
The Vincent in “St. Vincent” is a self-destructive, not entirely likeable curmudgeon. However, because he is portrayed winningly by the indefatigable Bill Murray, the character, like the film itself, is a flawed crowd pleaser. Murray’s ability to see past any caricature helps tremendously, as does his young co-star Jaeden Lieberher, who as 12-year-old Oliver makes for a perfect and sweetly authentic sidekick.
The two meet when Oliver and his newly single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) move next door to Vincent in a hardscrabble Brooklyn neighborhood. Maggie decides her best option is to let the alcoholic, chain-smoking Vincent sit with Oliver after school. In a decidedly against-type and understated turn, McCarthy is solid as the desperate-but-caring Mom who’s still hurting after her ex-husband’s affairs.
Vincent and Oliver bond, of course, but not before the old man exposes the curious pre-teen to his favorite haunts: the racetrack, a local dive bar and a strip club where pregnant dancer Daka (Naomi Watts) works. Some of the comedy seems forced and the pacing is off, but clearly some audiences will always laugh when an elderly drunk makes a fool of himself. Or perhaps because audiences root for Murray we know he will end up on top somehow, so the pitifulness caused by his churlish behavior is more easily ignored.
Indeed, Vincent is no role model, but his character is not without redeeming values. Writer-director Ted Melfi has fashioned an occasionally contrived but consistently humorous script. If anything, “St. Vincent” is a character study and a bit of a lesson that kids, if given enough quality time, can see the good in adults when no one else can. In a nice change of pace, the script avoids the temptation to demonize the real dad (Scott Adsit).
So even if it ends on an overcooked, “Mr. Holland’s Opus” note, the film cannot be dismissed entirely. It’s a perfect vehicle for Bill Murray, who can bring out the sincerity in virtually any character he’s asked to portray. It would be nice if more films and TV shows would portray strong father figures—a practically invisible character type. But as “St. Vincent” demonstrates, absent a full-time father, a grouchy goofball next door can be a decent surrogate, especially if he’s as funny and convincing as Bill Murray.
Rated PG-13. (for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco us and for language).