Film review: ‘St Vincent’
Dir: Theodore Melfi; US comedy, 2014, 102 mins; Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher
PREMIERED APRIL 30
The celebrated comic actor, Bill Murray, has given us many iconic characters, from Pete Venkman in Ghostbusters and Phil the weatherman in Groundhog Day, to the cementing of his indie-credibility via collaborations with fashionable directors such as Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch and his memorable turn in Tokyo for Sophia Coppola’s Lost In Translation.
Notoriously reclusive, his relationship with Tinseltown is an unconventional one at best – he has no agent, which is practically unheard of for an actor of his calibre, and apparently he vets scripts on the basis of whether or not they offer him ‘intellectual stimulation’. Probably for that reason alone, when Murray deems a project to have met all the necessary criteria, it will likely be worth paying attention to. This time, it’s writer/director and feature debutant Theodore Melfi who is the lucky beneficiary of the Murray magic.
About a boy and a grinch
Vincent (Murray) is a hard-drinking, hard-living, grouchy old misanthrope who is riddled with debt and self-loathing. Turning to gambling as a means to alleviate his predicament prove as successful as you’d imagine and so, when the opportunity arrives to fleece his new neighbour, single mother Maggie (McCarthy), for babysitting money, he takes all she can give.
During his time with the woman’s young son (Liebeher), also something of a social misfit as it turns out, Vincent predictably has his hard heart turned to mush by the hapless scallywag. The pair frequent bars, betting offices and brothels as they discover, despite their age difference, each has plenty of wisdom to offer the other.
Predictable, but not plodding
If this film fails in any department, it isn’t the signposts. From the moment the caustic curmudgeon agrees to babysit the adorable tyke (around ten minutes in), we know where this film is going.
This notion is further cemented by the boy’s time at school, during which the religious studies teacher, amusingly played by Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd), informs his pupils that their next project will be concerned with saints – and soon, each pupil is asked to identify a real-life saint living among them.
Fortunate then, that this isn’t a film whose enjoyment is derived from the twists and turns of the plot.
Far from it.
Miracle man Murray
It’s hard to imagine Murray found this script ‘intellectually stimulating’, but director Melfi has wisely allowed the actor room enough to make Vincent all his own. The film is a perfectly pleasing diversion that seems content to hinge entirely on Murray’s comic brilliance.
That is not to say that the film isn’t adequately directed or well-cast. Young Lieberher’s deadpan delivery is almost never annoying (something of an achievement for pre-adolescent actors), McCarthy generates genuine sympathy for her overworked casualty nurse and Watts puts in an absurdly game turn as the Russian, pregnant, pole-dancing prostitute. But without Murray’s unique charisma, the film, crippled by predictability, could easily have slipped directly into the bargain box at your petrol station.
The inclusion of an eminently watchable Bill Murray won’t automatically elevate mediocre material to indie gold (Broken Flowers and Zombieland stand testament to this), but it will help.