St. Vincent

Posted by Joel Copling on October 24, 2014

"St. Vincent" presents us with a pairing as old as the phenomenon of the melodrama: a young boy and his mentor. The mentor in question isn't teaching him anything specific, like Yoda or Miyagi before him, but before long, the boy realizes and seems to become his older counterpart's better nature. That lesson translates over to us prior to this, of course, because it wouldn't be the play on our emotions that it is, but at least the screenplay by director Theodore Melfi gives us an honest reason to believe in the almost-surrogate relationship, even if there are a multitude of distractions in place that sometimes threaten to overwhelm the heart of the tale with mundane banality.

The mentor in this case is the Vincent of the title, as played by a marvelous Bill Murray. He is a grouch. There is just no other word for him. He is set in his ways, which do not bend easily to the whims of a bank official who must inform him that his account must be closed (and it'll cost him over a hundred dollars to do that in the first place). The boy is Oliver, played by an equally excellent newcomer by the name of Jaeden Lieberher (who needs a long, illustrious career to happen to him ASAP). He's a runty kid who gets beat up pretty easily, but he doesn't annoy (i.e. he delights) Old Man Vincent. And since Oliver needs taken care of after school (The boy's mother Maggie, played by a wonderful Melissa McCarthy, is a nurse who keeps long hours), why doesn't Vincent help. For a price, of course.

Each has his little subplots, but only one for each really works. For Vincent, it is the slow deterioration of his wife Sandy (Donna Mitchell) by way of Alzheimer disease; it is in these moments, during which Vincent disguises himself as a doctor, that the character is at his softest and Murray's performance mirrors that shift admirably. Material involving a Russian prostitute played by Naomi Watts, who is very pregnant and leans on Vincent as a surrogate father of sorts, and a bookie played by Terrence Howard, who all but disappears having served no purpose, is a distraction in the worst way. The soul of Vincent's character is in his turbulent family life, and when the film's focus is on that the results are quite lovely.

For Oliver (and, by extension, Maggie), the most important element is also family history of sorts. Dad cheated on Mom many times, and Oliver is perfectly privy to it. He misses his dad, but he knows the mistakes were serious. In a way, he understands the consequences were necessary. He does have a fun friendship with a former bully named Ocinski (Dario Barosso), and Chris O'Dowd has a fun appearance as the Catholic school's anything-goes professor, but again, the distractions are apparent here. Even so, "St. Vincent" is solid enough to make us believe in its central friendship and even earns the right to wax poetic about Vincent's past in the form of an inspirational speech.

Film Information

Bill Murray (Vincent), Jaeden Lieberher (Oliver), Melissa McCarthy (Maggie), Naomi Watts (Daka), Chris O'Dowd (Brother Geraghty), Terrence Howard (Zucko), Dario Barosso (Ocinski), Kimberly Quinn (Nurse Ana), Ann Dowd (Shirley), Donna Mitchell (Sandy).

Directed and written by Theodore Melfi.

Rated PG-13 (mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol/tobacco use, language).

102 minutes.

Released in select cities on October 17, 2014.