Bill Murray shines in St. Vincent
Review by Daniel Rester
St. Vincent finds Bill Murray at his best. The actor brings some deepness to role of Vincent de Van Nuys, yet the performance also contains Murray’s sublime delivery of dry humor. It’s a treat to see him in such fine form again, though the film as whole isn’t quite on the same level.
Vincent is a Vietnam veteran who likes to drink and be left alone; he also likes having sex with a pregnant dancer named Daka (Naomi Watts). His world begins to change once a young boy named Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and his mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), move in next door. With Maggie starting a new job and going through a divorce, she seeks Vincent’s help in babysitting Oliver. As a result, Vincent and Oliver soon begin to bond with each other.
St. Vincent is a well-written, safe, and sweet film that mostly rides on the strength of its cast. Writer-director-producer Theodore Melfi has certainly gathered a handsome cast at that. Murray owns the role of Vincent from frame one onward, while Lieberher is very strong as Oliver as well. It’s also nice to see McCarthy take on a more dramatic role, though she gets in some laughs here and there. Watts is fun and sports a thick accent as Daka, but her character feels a bit out of place with the rest of the material. Chris O’Dowd (as a teacher) and Terrence Howard (as a gambling fee collector) are good in their small parts, but it feels like Melfi should have either eliminated their characters or given them more to do.
Melfi’s film is simple at its core, but it also contains a number of subplots that make it feel stuffed. We get plot threads like Vincent dealing with horse race gambling and a medical home, Oliver getting picked on at school and having to do a big project, Daka relying on Vincent for various things, Maggie having trouble at work, etc. The characters do shine throughout, but Melfi’s script tries to throw on too much extra baggage for such a basic character-driven film.
The film looks clean and is well-framed. Melfi never tries to draw attention to his style, instead letting the actors and story do the work. He does fit in some choice songs on the soundtrack and a few cool slow-motion shots, though. This is the filmmaker’s first feature film; he shows confidence and promise behind the cameras.
St. Vincent gets a bit too sugary towards its finish, but the cast keeps things believable with their characters. Vincent is actually a bit of a jerk on the surface level, but Melfi and Murray peel back the layers to give us a man with a big heart. Such a development is a tad predictable. However, Melfi and Murray allow us to get there in a few surprising ways. These smooth touches are what keep St. Vincent from getting too covered in sappiness.
With all of the heavy-hitting, super-serious Oscar hopefuls coming up, St. Vincent will likely be a light gem that works as a breather from such fair. However, don’t be surprised if Murray picks up an acting nomination himself. He’s that good here.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+).
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language).
Runtime: 1 hour and 43 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: October 17th, 2014 (limited); October 24th, 2014 (wider).