St. Vincent Review
A touching film about a curmudgeon with hidden depths
Bill Murray has always been underrated as an actor and, in his latest role, the comedy star delivers another wonderfully understated performance.In new film St. Vincent he plays a misanthropic, bawdy and hedonistic war veteran who befriends a lonely boy that moves in next door. It’s hardly a stretch for Murray and at times the character of Vincent feels like a less comic version of Phil Conners from Groundhog Day. Vincent doesn’t appear to like anyone and spends all his time smoking, drinking, gambling and sleeping with prostitutes. But there are hidden depths to this man and it takes the friendship of a young boy to reveal his true nature.
The story is hardly original and often strays into similar territory to About a Boy, with an older man being forced to look after a child and ultimately bonding with him. There’s also more than a little influence from Mr. Holland’s Opus when it comes to the ending but it does feel like an emotional reward that the film has earned. However it’s Murray’s show all the way and he uses his deadpan delivery to full effect, generating laughs but also real pathos in a role that was written for him.
The supporting cast is equally good with Melissa McCarthy for once reigning in the gross-out humour and slapstick to play Maggie, a struggling single-mother. Naomi Watts is less successful playing against type as Daka, a pregnant Russian stripper and ‘lady of the night’ who visits Vincent on a weekly basis. It’s their relationship that is probably the least developed and thus the most unlikely. Terrance Howard crops up as an initially understanding bookie and Chris O’Dowd plays an Irish Catholic priest - a role that his agent presumably has on speed dial.
In the key part of Maggie’s son is newcomer Jaeden Lieberher who delivers an old-before-his-years performance as the lost but surprisingly understanding Oliver. The relationship between Oliver and Vincent is the core of the film and both actors have great chemistry together as Murray tutors Lieberher in the ways of the world. So he ends up doing odd-jobs for Vincent, going to bars, race tracks and meeting Daka. Vincent also teaches him to defend himself, which comes in handy at Oliver’s new school.
At the centre of St. Vincent is another great performance from Bill Murray.
Lieberher isn’t the only newcomer on the film because St. Vincent is writer/director Theodore Melfi’s first full-length feature. It’s a credit to Murray that he is prepared to support first-timers, he did something similar for Sofia Coppola on her second feature Lost in Translation. In fact Murray really should have won the Oscar for that film rather than Sean Penn’s shouty performance in Mystic River. Coppola also wrote that part specifically for Murray, so perhaps there's something to be said for specifically tailoring the role to the actor's strengths.
There are similarities between St. Vincent and Lost in Translation, aside from the presence of Murray and an inexperienced writer/director. Both films are funny without being actual comedies and both centre around a man who has lost his way and finds it again thanks to a relationship with a younger person. They also both have great central performances from Bill Murray and that’s reason enough to see the film in anyone’s book. St. Vincent is a gently amusing little picture with a big heart that is certainly worth watching if you get the chance.
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