For a first time feature, writer and director Theodor Melfi has certainly managed to attract an impressive ensemble cast, headed by none other than the legendary Bill Murray. Although probably best known for the Ghostbusters movie franchise, film aficionados can attest that in the past few years Murray has made some very interesting choices and has shown himself to be a darn fine actor, so anything with him at the helm is generally worth a look, and this turns out to be no exception.
Murray plays Vincent, a cantankerous elderly man, who butts heads with almost everyone who crosses his path. His days consist of drinking, gambling, and entertaining a pregnant immigrant prostitute Danka (Watts).
When he gets new neighbours in the form of single mom Maggie (McCarthy) and her son Oliver (newcomer Lieberher) he immediately gets off on the wrong foot with them. However, when Oliver finds himself locked out of home after school, Vincent begrudgingly looks after him, leading to a regular arrangement whereby he babysits the boy in the evenings until his mother gets home. Although Vincent’s after-school activities involve strip clubs and race tracks, Oliver soon realises that there is more to Vincent than his gruff exterior, and the two develop an unconventional but sweet friendship.
On paper this is a very formulaic plot that has been done before, but like the saying goes “if it’s not broken don’t fix it”. Formulaic is fine if it is supported by a strong script and good performances, and thankfully that is what elevates this flick. Murray is on fine form as the cantankerous Vincent, and he really carries the whole film, bouncing well off Lieberher, who gives a poignant performance that belies his years.
McCarthy doesn’t appear as comfortable playing a straight role as she does in her usual comic fare, but acquits herself well, and the only weak link in the cast really is Watts, whose Eastern European tart with a heart is completely cliché driven.
The script is great on the whole, however it veers into overly sentimental territory about two thirds in. While this tends to be part of the aforementioned formula for these movies, this film really didn’t need to lay it on so thick, as you are already fully engaged with Vincent and Oliver and care about what happens to them. That said, the schmaltz is forgivable in light of some of the other wonderful moments in St Vincent.
Well-paced and wittier than its premise would belie, thanks in no small part to Murray, who has created a completely multi-faceted central character, St Vincent is a fine debut from Melfi, and hints at great things to come.
A truly heartwarming and engaging film, I would be surprised if this didn’t nab a few awards, particularly for Murray. If you’re looking for the movie equivalent of comfort food, look no further.
In cinemas December 5th