Wednesday, March 11, 2015

St. Vincent Movie Review

Bill Murray has had a late stage career renaissance playing curmudgeonly irritated men whose bitterness and sarcasm masks some deep loss within. It started with Rushmore and found one of its greatest expressions in Lost in Translation. It reaches a nadir in Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent which has Murray playing the title character who is anything but a saint.

Vincent is a rude misanthropic angry man with a ramshackle house that’s falling apart, a car that isn’t doing much better, a healthy drinking problem, and a penchant for gambling as a means of increasing his debs and chances of getting broken kneecaps from his loan shark Zucko (Terrence Howard). Oh, and his best friend is Daka, a pregnant prostitute stripper (Naomi Watts, sporting a cartoonish Russian accent) whose employment options are limited to men who find her belly a turn-on.

Whatever is the opposite of a Meet Cute (I guess something like a Meet Unfortunate) is how Vincent meets his new neighbor Maggie (Melissa McCarthy). Her movers damage his property with their truck. She is so ashamed that she’s willing to put up with Vincent’s verbal assault in front of her young son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and then offer to pay for the damage. A normal woman would have told Vincent where he could stick it. But this is a movie that wants to be a comedy of life’s foibles, so we’re supposed to believe that someone could be as monstrous as Vincent and that his victim could say, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

Improbably, Maggie winds up hiring Vincent to look after Oliver after school. She works long hospital hours and her cheating husband is out of the picture and not even paying child support. The relationship that forms between Vincent and Oliver is just a marriage of convenience. It’s a plot device designed to help us on the journey toward seeing Vincent’s redemptive qualities, the only one of which seems to be that he visits his dementia-addled wife in an assisted living facility and does her laundry every week. The moniker of “saint” is given to him by Oliver in a school project to find “saints among us” assigned by his Catholic school teacher Father Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd). It culminates in a ridiculously sappy presentation about how Vincent says bad words, drinks too much, is really mean and judgmental, took a small child to the racetrack, introduced him to a prostitute, served in Vietnam, and visits his ailing wife. Yeah, I’m not sold.

The only thing Melfi gets right is his utilization of McCarthy, who shows she can be hilarious through a character’s unfortunate circumstances. This isn’t one of her scenery chewing wild romps like her Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids. She does some subtle work here. It’s an unorthodox casting choice for an actress known for being the funny fat woman. But she has a fierce tone and a sharp tongue that makes the character into a put-upon single mother desperate to find the best for her son.

The kid is charming and likeable and Lieberher is that rare breed of child actor who can play a cute kid free of self-conscious manipulation and crowd-pleasing. He feels like real child and not a movie child. He’s actually a great fit as an on-screen pairing with McCarty who comes off as equally believable. It’s Vincent whom I don’t buy as a person. And I reject the entire premise that he’s just misunderstood and that beneath the gruff drunk exterior there’s a man worth singling out for praise and a wise selection for the care and responsibility of a child.

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