“Don’t worry , it’s going to get better.”
It’s a line stated in Theodore Melfi’s debut feature in St. Vincent and it applies to our central characters here. Bill Murray is Vincent MacKenna, a grumpy, gambling and alcoholic swilling curmudgeon who begrudgingly befriends his new neighbor boy Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). The boy’s mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is a recent divorcee who’s working hard to make ends meet and this allows Vincent to become Oliver’s unconventional babysitter. Soon enough Oliver is learning some things not being instructed by his kindly Catholic school instructor (Chris O’Dowd). He even meets Vincent’s “lady of the night” friend Daka (Naomi Watts), a pregnant hooker with a Russian heart of gold. Luckily young Oliver assumes she has a night job.
There is a lot more, however, to Vincent than his personality and demeanor suggest. He’s desperately trying to care of his Alzheimer’s ridden wife who resides in a care facility. Vincent is a war hero. The central and sweet concept of the film is simple: don’t judge a book by its cover. Also, embrace your flaws but try to do some good. At one point, Daka expresses to Vincent: “You always lose. You should be comfortable by now.”
Vincent and Maggie are both experiencing losing streaks. Yet they’re both trying. McCarthy breaks from her traditional persona and sass here. The role of Maggie is an understated one and she plays it well. This is more vulnerable and sensitive than we’re used to seeing her. She gets to shine in one scene where she confesses her problems to the faculty at Oliver’s school and McCarthy nails it. Naomi Watts takes what is mostly a cliched and familiar part and manages to turn it into a winning performance. Lieberher is key. We often see where a child actor can dampen proceedings with sub par acting. Not here. The kid is just fine.
St. Vincent is a formula movie for sure. We know where the screenplay is eventually headed. Subplots involving the school bully and a custody battle are by the numbers. Don’t worry though. St. Vincent is solid enough and gets better. While the aforementioned performers deserve some credit, let’s get real. Bill Murray is a national treasure. He’s an incredibly gifted actor comedically and dramatically. He gets to exhibit both qualities in large doses here. Director/writer Melfi fashions a template for Murray to play in that’s quite good. Murray makes it near great.
***1/2 (out of four)