St. Vincent, featuring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts, has the look and feel of Bill Murray’s last hurrah, a gentle celebration of harmless dysfunction embodied in a Vietnam War veteran who is equal parts irascible, fun and endearing.
In other words, Vincent MacKenna, the title character, is everything we have come to know and love about Bill Murray over the years.
He’s like a grown child who knows he shouldn’t have broken the rules, but wins over the audience, anyway, because his indiscretions are fairly light weight and he secretly has a good side.
Murray, our modern-day Walter Matthau, always displays a private set of principles that the audience sees, but his cast members miss. At least for a while.
In this case, Murray is a grouchy, unshaven, past-caring type who likes his whiskey clean while lounging in a flimsy aluminum-framed beach chair in his dust bowl of a back yard in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood.
He smokes, partakes, gambles on the horses, and has a repeat-business relationship with a gruff Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts), who favors leopard pattern bras and spike heels and happens to be gorgeous and pregnant.
Despite appearances, it’s a fairly endearing set up that gets jostled by Melissa McCarthy, who shows up as a new neighbor who, with an twelve-year old son in tow, is fleeing a philandering husband. She works late and doesn’t know a soul in the neighborhood, so she turns to Vincent to watch her son when he gets home from school.
Her son, Oliver Bronstein (played by Jaeden Lieberher), attends a Catholic school, where his class is studying saints and where he is harassed by a local bully. That leaves Vincent to step in as a rescuer and erratic role model for the boy, as his mother is rarely around and is fraught with money and divorce worries.
Yes, this is a bunch of misfits headed for redemption in one form or another.
It turns out, of course, that Oliver is lucky at the racetrack, learns to assert himself with a bartender (while he is swilling coke) and lands the schoolyard bully a well-deserved punch in the snout using a technique taught to him by Vincent.
Director Theodore Melfi’s largest contribution, as I see it, is that he tames Melissa McCarthy. She is also in a familiar role – a woman who can’t seem to handle the tsunami of life.
But here, instead of defensive, loud and obscene, McCarthy’s character is grounded and even demure. It’s not only a welcome relief; McCarthy handles the role beautifully.
The movie pivots as much on the character of Oliver as it does on Vincent, which makes of for a delicate directorial debut for Melfi.
One one hand, there’s Bill Murray, who learned everything he knows about children from W.C. Fields. (In other words, he’s all but allergic to them.) Meanwhile, Oliver has to be wise enough to see through Vincent’s crusty exterior and find the heart of gold that nobody else sees.
All in all, you have to forgive St. Vincent. It is a story full of holes and improbable outcomes. This is Mr. Hollands Opus meets Pieces of April. We’re going for a crescendo of warm and fuzzy that originates with a series of torn and tattered lives – an epic idea cramped by time constraints, among other things.
Still, you have to just let the story pull a rabbit from a hat on this one.
For one thing, it is impossible not to love Bill Murray. It’s impossible to do anything but try to love Mellisa McCarthy. This leaves us with Naomi Watts, who is everything you would ever want in a disenchanted, pregnant, woman of the night.
I’m asking myself what’s not to like about St. Vincent and I can’t think of an answer. It falls short, but you should see it, anyway. I guarantee it: Nobody will ask for their money back.