“St. Vincent” is Bill Murray at his absolute best (looking his very worst) in a story that enables him to showcase fully his comedic and dramatic acting skills. Written and directed by Theodore Melfi, “St. Vincent” is a dramedy revolving around a 60-something, down-on-his-luck war vet, Vincent (Bill Murray), and his newly arrived next-door neighbors, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her young son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Melfi’s script is so well-written and delivered, that the film will have you laughing, blushing and, at times, near tears.
When we first meet Vincent he’s had one really bad day. He owes money to his bookie, Zucko (Terrence Howard), is overdrawn on his checking account, and his drinking has truly gotten out of control…to the point of him crashing his car into his house fence when he finally makes it home that evening. Into this chaos enters Maggie and Oliver, who meet Vincent the next morning, right after their movers smash into Vincent’s tree, doing further damage to his car and fence. To say their initial meeting goes badly is putting it mildly. We learn that Maggie is a recently divorced working mom who’s fighting for custody of her 12-year-old son. We see how harried she is as she drops Oliver off at the bus stop for his first day of parochial school and heads off for her new job…one with long hours…at a hospital. Oliver doesn’t fare much better at school. Outside of having the best teacher ever in Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd), he’s bullied and robbed of his cell phone, his pants and shirt, and perhaps most importantly, his house keys. He makes it back to his house, but finds himself seeking refuge in not the most welcoming of homes…Vincent’s. Maggie’s appalled at where Oliver ends up, but there’s not much she can do about it and she and Vincent come to an agreement that Vincent will be Oliver’s official babysitter…for a fee, of course. Although he shouldn’t, Vincent takes Oliver to places a child has no business being, but he also provides some male guidance that Oliver is lacking. In their own way, Vincent and Oliver make quite the pair and come to understand and help one another on a whole other level.
“St. Vincent’s” cast is absolutely terrific. Bill Murray is phenomenal as the ne’er do-well nanny/neighbor. His work with each and every actor is perfection, but never more so than with McCarthy and Jaeden Lieberher, together and separately. McCarthy finally gets to show that she is more than a manic mouth and pratfall diva. “St. Vincent” gives her the opportunity to portray both her feisty and soft sides and she shines. What can one say about Lieberher except ask, “where did he come from?” This year has given us a whole host of outstanding child actors who can really act and certainly Lieberher goes right to the top of that list. There’s nothing precocious or phony about him. His character is an old soul whose politeness grabs you right away. He delivers his lines in such an off the cuff manner, you can’t believe he is this young. It’s Oliver’s relationship with Vincent that really is the movie’s heart. In order for the movie to work, you have to believe in their friendship, and boy, do you ever. One can’t wait to see what the future hold in store for this young actor.
“St. Vincent’s” supporting cast is top-notch. Chris O’Dowd’s Brother Geraghty is the kind of teacher one can only wish for, but he’s not sickingly sweet. He has the right acerbic edge and O’Dowd manages that perfectly. Naomi Watts has an interesting role as pregnant Russian prostitute/exotic dancer, Daka, who is Vincent’s “girlfriend,” even though he pays her for sex. Watts is very good, but her part isn’t truly necessary. On the plus side, however, her character does add another layer to the development of Vincent’s character. Is Vincent the baby’s father…it’s not clear, but not overly important either.
“St. Vincent” doesn’t always go where you think it’s going…it’s full of surprises throughout…for that matter, so is Bill Murray.