According to director Theodore Melfi, the idea for St. Vincent came out of the process of adopting his niece after his brother’s death. Thought the child in questions has swapped genders and the adoptive parental figure has morphed into someone who’s (presumably) a lot more self-serving than Melfi or his wife, those family roots can be distinctly felt in the movie. As opposed to something like Bad Words earlier this year, which focused on a similar relationship but was unquestionably aimed at an older audience, St. Vincent feels like something you’d take the kids to. You know, except for the cursing and the hookers.
So maybe it’s not actually all that different from Bad Words in terms of content, although I’ll still argue its treatment of both bad language and “women of the night” is a lot less prone to offense that the Jason Bateman flick. But for many of you, this is probably beside the point. You’re wondering if the movie, which The Weinstein Company seems to be winding up as Bill Murray’s follow up to Lost in Translation (his only Oscar nominated role to date), lives up to the billing.
Is it an Oscar-worthy film?
Is it a good movie?
Yes it is.
Melfi, who also wrote the script, has put together a movie that’s surprisingly cohesive given the number of loose plot threads you could pick away at if you were so inclined. Regardless of what I personally think of the film, it’s one where we’ll at least be talking about its content more than its form, because it feels like Melfi made exactly the movie he set out to.
The plot follows the hard living Vince (Murray), a broke and yet by all appearances retired Vietnam vet who loves alcohol, horse racing, and a certain pregnant Russian prostitute by the name of Daka (Naomi Watts). Vince finds an opportunity for some easy cash when new neighbor and single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) needs help looking after her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) with her job as a hospital tech keeping her working late. Oliver is small and shrimpy, which means as the new kid at his Catholic private school, he’s the target of bullies. A number of subplots are constantly in motion, but the main trajectory of the film is that Oliver adopts Vince as father figure du jour.
And like I said, it all basically works. There are a shocking number of subplots that come and go, and while we might not ever see all the consequences that maybe should occur over one or the other, each does serve a distinct purpose for both the plot and the characters. Maybe the worst example of a plot hanger comes in the form of a bookie (played by Terrence Howard) who eventually threatens Vince over debts unpaid. He shows up a few times in order that we might know exactly how much of an irresponsible sleazeball Vince is before disappearing for the final third of the plot. Is it a hanger? Sure, but I didn’t really care because this piece worked where it was inserted, and the overall plot was successfully focused elsewhere when this line became irrelevant. The movie might be better if it had been resolved, true, but it doesn’t end up mattering that much.
The bigger concern comes from a similar issue in the tone of the movie. St. Vincent doesn’t seem sure just how much of an overt comedy it aims to be. And believe it or not, this doesn’t appear to have anything to do with ad-libbing on Murray’s part. Oh, Murray’s in his comfort zone as his crotchety old man – think the whisky commercial scene from Lost in Translation, except less a smart-ass and more just an ass – and he’s reasonably funny in the role. The problem is more that watching the film, it’s apparent that it’s trying to tell jokes sometimes while also wanting to be a drama where humor rises naturally from the “real life” of its slightly exaggerated characters.
And really, what the movie comes down to is how much you enjoy those slightly exaggerated characters in what amount to interconnected vignettes in a pretty predictable plot. I never thought I’d say this, but Melissa McCarthy is actually pretty bland, since Maggie is the only character who has to play things completely straight through the entire movie. Maggie’s not dislikable, but I guess I expected more from McCarthy. Vince has his sympathetic moments, but I never was entirely able to escape is that Vince is a self-serving ass who doesn’t do much to help those around him, no matter how much that makes him amusing or how much of a personal hero he still is to Oliver. As for Oliver himself, he’s more of a walking catalyst than a character in his own right, although that has to be the most obnoxiously respectful kid who’s ever lived. But hey, others will disagree. There were definitely people in my screening who were cracking up all the way.
The Verdict: 3 out of 5
St. Vincent, despite its borderline awards-run release date, is a popcorn flick, an easy date movie, almost a family film, even. It’s not going to challenge you in any new way, but it’s also a story that writer/director Theodore Melfi has compiled in a very intentional fashion. Regardless of what I or anyone else thinks, it certainly seems he has made the film he wanted to, and that’s a beautiful thing because it invites a diversity of opinions on the effectiveness of the story itself. As for me, I found the characters and their shenanigans (mostly Vince’s/Bill Murray’s shenanigans) passably entertaining, and while I doubt St. Vincent will become the end of year player Weinstein may be hoping for, it’s also an easy film to recommend if you’re looking for something easy to watch.