On the Silver Screen – St. Vincent
Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent is the story of a young boy named Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) bonding with his crotchety old neighbour Vincent (Bill Murray).
First of all, anyone expecting the comedy that was trailed really won’t get that. This is another example of a film being completely different to what was advertised. Most of the time -at least in my experience- this turns out to be a bad thing but here it’s great. I wasn’t overly impressed with the trailer I saw so I’m sure if that had been the tone of the film then my review would be far more negative than this one. It is still a comedy and there are some very funny moments throughout but the overall tone is more dramatic than funny. Any comedic moments feel more authentic as a result and none of the laughs feel forced.
The film we actually get is really well put together. Murray does a fantastic job of playing an over the hill wise-ass who has long since stopped being wise and is now just an ass. It’s clear that his routine might have been charming when he was a young man but now people just find it tiresome and Vincent is a man who is in his twilight years with little in the way of friends.
Vincent is played with so much depth which is to be expected from Bill Murry. There’s a sense of the history this character has had and vague references to events that might have caused him to essentially give up on people through the years. Vincent is really complex in that he’s very introverted in terms of how he interacts with others but he does a lot that nobody knows about. Most of that is gambling and drinking but he spends a lot of time visiting his wife who suffers from Alzheimers in a care home and looking after her despite the fact that she doesn’t remember him at all.
His caring for others comes across frequently in this film. For instance he spends a lot of time with a pregnant stripper/prostitute named Daka (Naomi Watts) and keeps an arrangement with her when no other man will go near her. It’s never made clear if the baby belongs to him or not but it doesn’t really matter in the context of the story. The important thing is that he cares when nobody else would, possibly because she’s a damaged soul in real need of help with no support system. He’s not very nice about it but he gives her unquestioning help whenever she needs it.
Murray builds such a layered character that I was completely behind him when the film hits the more intensely emotional beats. There are moments towards the end that are genuinely moving and Murray plays them with a great sense of authenticity that stops things from descending into outright melodrama. The reactions to these upsetting situations feel real for the most part and Vincent’s feelings are very subtly put together.
There are many moments in the film that could push Vincent over the edge to being unlikeable but Bill Murray’s performance always keeps him an engaging character to watch go about his life. I don’t think many people could have played this character and still had me root for him after some of the things he does.
Vincent’s central relationship is his bond with the young Oliver who he initially takes pity on when he’s left with nobody to look after him because his mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) has to work late in order to support him. This story hits all the beats you might expect with a level of resentment at first that evolves into genuine affection. There’s nothing new in that sense but it’s so well written that it’s a joy to watch. Vincent shows Oliver every aspect of his life and actually gives him a pretty real education on how life can turn out if you remain a loser and don’t amount to anything. It’s almost as if he’s channeling all of his regrets into making sure Oliver doesn’t have to go through the same when he gets older.
Lieberher’s performance is alright but nothing too special. I’m eternally grateful that he’s not the typical annoying kid that tends to show up in films like this. The writing makes him feel fairly real. Some of his dialogue doesn’t fit the age that he is but on the whole I bought it. His performance was a bit stiff and wooden at times but none of it really bothered me too much. He does a good job of interacting with Murray’s Vincent and the relationship they develop doesn’t feel forced. A film like this would live or die based on the central relationship and I’m pleased to say that this really works.
The supporting cast are all really good as well. Melissa McCarthy is great as Maggie and manages to grab my sympathies throughout. She’s a genuinely nice person who has had horrible luck and adores her son. She is clearly doing everything she can to make sure he has a good life but is fighting an uphill struggle to make sure that happens. Her relationship with Vincent is complex as she is grateful for his help but doesn’t like all of the things he exposes her to. Some of the best laughs come from her horrified reactions to what he has been up to when she’s not around.
Naomi Watts gives a great comedic performance which is interesting in itself as Murray and McCarthy are best known for comedy where she’s better known for her dramatic roles. She hits all the right notes and delivers a tragically funny character. The idea of a pregnant stripper/prostitute is already a hilarious prospect and she manages to make it work really well.
Chris O’Dowd appears in this film in a role that would be no real hardship to perform. He has some good moments as Brother Geraghty as he fulfills the trope of thematically appropriate teaching. It ties nicely into the main plot and O’Dowd is amusing as always in this fairly small role.
Something that could have been cut entirely was Terrence Howard’s Zucko who chases Vincent up for some money he owes him at a few points in the film. This character feels entirely pointless and this part of the story doesn’t really go anywhere. I feel that in earlier versions of the script he was a much more prominent antagonist but the scenes he’s in seem to be just killing time. Howard is entirely incapable of seeming threatening as well.
A touching story of an old man befriending a young boy and imparting some important life wisdom on him as they bond over a long period of time. The characters of Vincent and Oliver are really well written and the relationship that develops feels real and gives the audience some genuinely touching moments.
Bill Murray’s Vincent is a nicely layered and complex character who definitely has more going on than he projects outwardly to people. Murray is the perfect choice for this character as it prevents him from becoming unlikeable despite all the questionable things that he does throughout the film.
A strong supporting cast in Naomi Watts -who plays against type by ramping up the comedy- Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd help round out this film with some great personalities to challenge Murray’s Vincent in really entertaining ways.
At times Jaeden Lieberher’s Oliver feels a little stiff and wooden in terms of how he’s performed with some dialogue that doesn’t sound like it would come out of a child’s mouth and there’s a superfluous barely there subplot involving Vincent owing money to Terrence Howard’s Zucko. None of this drags the film down too much but it could have been a tighter experience had Howard’s character simply been cut altogether.