Tuesday, October 28, 2014

[Review] St. Vincent

Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, and newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, star in this formulaic but likable dramedy. St. Vincent has some mixed results, but overall, there's enough good to make you glad you stayed.

Vincent (Murray) is a low-life curmudgeon. He's rude to everyone, he drinks 24/7, he's gambled all his money away, and he's impregnated a "lady of the night" named Daka (Naomi Watts). Maggie (McCarthy) is a struggling single mother in the midst of a divorce and a custody battle. She and her 12-year-old son, Oliver (Lieberher), move nextdoor to Vincent and they definitely start off on the wrong foot. Oliver is also entering a new school, and he immediately is bullied on the first day. After getting his his wallet and keys (and clothes) stolen, he's forced to knock on Vincent's door. Vincent grudgingly lets him chill out for a while in his unkempt house. And Maggie, having to work tons of overtime at her nurse job, eventually hires Vincent as a babysitter. Vincent takes the kid under his wing, and well, you probably know how this Scrooge story goes. In an amusing and encapsulating shot, Oliver looks at the sky while he's lying on the ground after getting beat down by some bullies, and Vincent's head eclipses the sun, radiating a saintly aura as he helps Oliver off the pavement.

There are two subplots and characters that I wish were done away with completely. Not only do they disrupt the tone, but they also take valuable time away from the three main stars. Naka is annoying, and actually spoils the one really good subplot, which involves Vincent's ritual of going to visit his wife who is suffering from Alzheimer's at an assisted living home. And at one point, a bookie, (played by Terrence Howard) goes after Vincent with a gun. We already get the impression that Vincent owes people money, and this moment isn't developed enough to justify being there. The time could've been much better spent on Oliver and Vincent's relationship, which would've made the film's ending more powerful. The extra space also would've given McCarthy more screentime. Granted, her frequent absence is part of the narrative point, but after seeing McCarthy play the same character for her past few films, it's extremely nice to see her in a more grounded and dramatic role like this, because she does it wonderfully.

Even in the face of the film's flaws and unevenness, Murray's presence always makes this watchable, exercising his comic timing, while slipping into serious mode with a flip switch. He just makes it looks so easy (and it probably is for him). St. Vincent doesn't really present anything that we haven't seen multiple times (there's even a somber montage while a song by The National plays, which I'm actually always okay with). And the climactic scene is one of those blatant checklist sentimental recipes, but the thing is, it'll still leave a lump in your throat.


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