Look, daddy. Every time a Melissa McCarthy film’s released, Rex Reed has his period. Academy Award nominees Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts star in St. Vincent.
Director – Theodore Melfi
Screenplay – Theodore Melfi
Producer – Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Theodore Melfi & Fred Roos
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language
Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) is a drunk, gambling retiree who’s not so thrilled about receiving new neighbors when Maggie Bronstein (Melissa McCarthy) and her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door.
Their sour first impression with Vincent is just the beginning. Oliver’s bullied at his new Catholic school and Maggie finds herself worked to death with too many hours at the local hospital. But up to his ears in gambling debt, expecting a child with his “lady of the night”, Daka (Naomi Watts) and completely broke, Vincent reluctantly makes a deal with Maggie that he’ll look after Oliver after school.
Uh-oh… looks like someone’s crusty old heart is about to get softened.
Coming from writer/director/co-producer Theodore Melfi, in his feature-length film debut, St. Vincent marks the first time in years legendary funnyman Bill Murray’s been required to carry a comedy. We know he can pull it off in his sleep; he’s done so many times before. Pairing him up alongside Melissa McCarthy, one of the current go-to comic actresses out there, seems like a no-brainer move as well.
And yet this is kind of a disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate this film; in fact, I actually liked it more than I didn’t. But this film isn’t as good as you expect a film with this cast to be. The tired premise with the charming young lad that wears the snarky, curmudgeonly old man down ’til he can’t help but have a heart isn’t the problem; I’m fine with it, even though this might as well have been called About a Boy Redux. The similarities between this and the Hugh Grant film (a much better movie) are obvious, including heart-tugging climax. What drags this film down is that when Melfi turns things melodramatic, he piles on way too much than what’s needed.
I get why Melfi’s moves the film down overly-sentimental paths, such as a subplot involving Vincent’s wife in a nursing home that mean, bitter, crab-ass me felt wasn’t necessary. He wants to find a way for the audience to eventually like this crusty old irritating asshole. But what I don’t get is why he felt he needed all the additional sap added on when Murray alone is talented and charming enough to make it work. Harold Ramis may have had an ingenious plot device in Groundhog’s Day (one of Murray’s best, most endearing roles), but he didn’t feel the need to throw in these little manipulative subplots to get us to finally care about Phil Connors. The change felt genuine and unforced ’cause Ramis knew the talent he had on his hands and let Murray do the work of making an unlikeable dick actually likeable.
That said, as much as the writing aims desperately for crowd-pleasing, feel-good measures, I was still kinda drawn into this solely ’cause of the cast. As I said, Murray can play these types of roles blindfolded, arms tied behind back and in his sleep, and it was nice seeing him back in a leading role that gave him an opportunity to do what he’s excelled at for almost forty years. Though it’s not as genuinely heartfelt as Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult in About a Boy or as edgy (but not for lack of trying) as Billy Bob Thornton and Brett Kelly in Bad Santa, Murray and likeable newcomer Jaeden Lieberher still share a nice rapport with one another that’s hard not to buy into.
The real standout, however, is not Bill Murray. I mean, he delivers exactly what we expect of him. The standout is Melissa McCarthy who’s absolutely fantastic, taking a departure from her trademark brash, loudmouthed comedy to playing the straight role opposite Murray. Every now and then she does get a joke in, and they work refreshingly well in that it’s not coming from her over-the-top schtick. It’s not that I don’t love what she’s done in Bridesmaids and The Heat, but McCarthy’s revealing a different gear here that I really hope studios take notice and offer her opportunities that allow her to do more than just being a one-trick pony.
Also appearing, in a mini-Bridesmaids reunion, is Chris O’Dowd in a fine supporting turn. He is somewhat underused here, but he still manages to make use of his time onscreen. Naomi Watts, one of my personal favorite actresses, gets the short end of the stick as the cartoony Russian stripper carrying Vincent’s baby. You can’t fault Watts for not putting in the effort, but a part of me believes the performance would’ve worked more if they just tossed the distracting, unnecessary Russian accent.
You can connect the dots from the moment the opening title appears, yet while St. Vincent does come mighty close to slipping past that line into mawkish sentimentalism, the talented cast elevate the material enough for me to at least enjoy the journey, despite knowing how it’s all gonna go down. Melissa McCarthy shows she has much more range in her than Hollywood’s led us to believe, and of course, Bill Murray’s doing what he does best. It’s nothing new from him, but he’s great at it, and not many people can play charmingly cynical better than him.
I give St. Vincent a B- (★★★).
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