A lot of things are being said about St. Vincent: that it’s formulaic, it’s been done, that it’s schmaltzy, saccharine drivel. And while I can’t tell you that those things aren’t true, I will tell you that I don’t care. Not one bit. I didn’t care while I was watching the movie, genuinely laughing and also crying far more than I feel comfortable with in public, and I don’t care now, looking back with the advantage of cynical hindsight. Despite all its shortcomings, St. Vincent manages to still be sweet (not saccharine, I’d argue), moving, and entirely engaging. All of that is due, of course, to Bill F*cking Murray.
The story here is About a Boy 2 (or You Can Count on Me 2 or Any Number of Movies With the Same General Story 2). We have Vincent (pre-sainthood, he’s just Vin, played by Murray), a crabby, crotchety man who lives alone and doesn’t like anyone except his crabby, crotchety cat and a pregnant stripper/prostitute (a perfectly cartoonish Naomi Watts) he has over for weekly playdates. Cue the arrival of a smart and caring, but ultimately wimpy young boy. Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) has just moved in next door with his mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) following her ugly, quick divorce. Oliver stumbles into Vin’s life by way of some bullies, Vincent reluctantly takes him under a drunk, antagonistic wing, eventually teaches the boy to stand up for himself. Hijinks are had, fights are won, character traits are surprising, bonds are formed and broken and reformed. I could go into more detail, but you know it all already. There’s really nothing new to this story, it’s just told in a very effective way.
When the kid working the box office handed me my ticket for St. Vincent, he gave me the greeting “Enjoy Bill Murray.” And whether or not he meant it to be, that sentiment was spot-on. This movie is Bill Murray, and not much more. Sure, you may wonder what Bill Murray is doing slumming it with a tired story from a first time director. But it’s a good thing (for the movie itself, and also for us) that he is. With pretty much any other human on the planet, there would be no saving this film. But he manages to elevate it not just to a decent movie, but actually a pretty great one. And it’s tempting to say he does this single-handedly, but that would be unfairly underestimating the surprising charm of Lieberher’s Oliver. This tiny bundle of polite, hyper-focused, karate chopping charisma is no small boost to a movie that survives solely on its cast. I wish the same could be said for Melissa McCarthy, but while she is fantastic, her character is lacking in depth. Writer/director Ted Melfi has described this film as being loosely autobiographical, so perhaps it’s no surprise that we only see Maggie as Oliver sees her: working hard, drinking wine, complaining about her ex. So yes, St. Vincent has it faults. A lot of them. It’s an overdone story with little deviation from the prewritten formula. But none of that matters. With Bill Murray at the wheel, my heart was fully warmed. And a little broken. And then warmed all over again.
Vivian Kane wishes there had been more Chris O’Dowd in this movie, and every movie.