(SPOILERS) Apart from the accent, which he finds a wee bit tricky, Bill Murray could phone in this kind of role during his sleep. The grumpy but likeable curmudgeon. He even attempts to atone for passing on Bad Santa by making friends with a loveable little squirt. The familiarity dripping from every pore of St. Vincent isn’t really its biggest problem, it’s that it’s so shameless in scraping together something heart-warming and life-affirming from the signatures of other better movies that it leaves little room for feeling anything genuine at all.
See also: As Good As it Gets, About a Boy. Murray’s going for – I assume – a Brooklyn accent. I tend to be fairly lazy about calling out dodgy accents. Ones that bug the hell out of people get a free pass, but even I could hear he was having problems. I suspect it interfered with his naturally laidback cadence, as familiar tones kept seeping back in. He’s the title character, for whom sainthood is a key and saccharine component of the final act. Vincent’s a ‘Nam vet so Murray’s back in familiar Stripes territory, only less anarchically so.
Theodore Melfi’s feature debut follows the kind of indie-lite trajectory found in many a recent picture featuring young/old casts and cockle-warming sentimentality. Most of these also star Steve Carrell, because there’s nothing like a bit of indie slumming (see Little Miss Sunshine and The Way Way Back) to add prestige value to a Hollywood thespian. Particularly one known for comedy who wants to convince others of his chops. Which there’s nothing at all wrong with this per se, this type of movie has become a very definite type by this point. Edge-free, with a sprinkling of rites of passage and a bridging of the generation gap. That might be why St. Vincent wasn’t quite the slam-dunk The Weinsteins no doubt hoped it would be (as in, it didn’t turn into the next Little Master Sunshine).
Also on-board the celebrity credibility train is Naomi Watts as pregnant lady of the night shag-buddy Daka. Watts doesn’t need to confirm her credibility. Well, she didn’t’ before this and Diana. She’s off the scale for alarmingly accented Eastern Europeans, and at least helps Murray by distracting from his variable vocal performance.
It doesn’t stop there. Everyone seemed to think this was dramedy gold dust, including Chris O’Dowd as Brother Geraghty. O’Dowd has already far exceeded any remaining goodwill he garnered early in his career through his determined efforts to whore himself about into any movie anywhere that will take him. Terrence Howard has little more than a cameo as loan shark Zucko. Ann Dowd who really is cameoing, which is a shame.
Most of all, there’s Melissa McCarthy as Vincent’s new neighbour Maggie. She’s the mother of Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher, putting in a decent showing and wisely not trying an accent, he’s saddled with the most unlikely precocious dialogue conceivable), who is stuck being babysat by Vincent (for 12 dollars an hour) while she works shifts as a CAT scanner (yes, that will prove to be a vital plot point). McCarthy’s fine but it’s not a great part. I don’t think she farts or belches though, so it’s progress of a sort.
Just like Thurman Merman in Bad Santa, Oliver is being bullied at school, and just like in Bad Santa the aging mentor initiates payback. Less directly, so it isn’t nearly as much fun or as reprehensible. In fact, Melfi makes a point of having Vincent punch Ocinski (Dario Barosso) in a soundtracked moment of triumph and jubilation and then backtracks when Daka Finds out (“Violence is for assholes”). Too late: it’s clearly commendable to teach kids to solve their problems through aggression. What’s more, it’s doubly all right because they’ll make friends with the guy who bullied them. So much so, Ocinski will even be sitting at the dinner table with the makeshift family come the last scene.
Vincent is mired in bad neighbourness, but not irredeemably so, ways, of course. He’s a drunk, a gambler (the picture opts not to picks resolve how he steals Oliver’s winnings/savings, presumably because that would be too much of a downer) and inveterate grouch. But he also has a wife with Alzheimer’s whom he keeps quiet about, he supports Daka through her pregnancy, and he saved buddies lying face down in the mud in ‘Nam. Even got a medal for it.
The picture is much better when it is reticent. Unfortunately it has to go and open the floodgates. Vincent’s wife dies, he has a stroke (again, best not to dwell on this; Bill acting like he can’t speak properly gets in the way of what he does best, speaking properly) and, in the ultimate contrived conflation, Oliver’s class are asked by Brother Geraghty to deliver presentations on who they think qualifies as “Saints Among Us”.
Melfi directs casually and unobtrusively, so he should fit in comfortably with bigger budget middling romps. Next up is Going in Style, an aging heist movie with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin. You’d want to see it just for the stars, unless you’ve already seen Stand Up Guys and Last Vegas. And, since Zach Braff is co-directing, one really shouldn’t expect much.
St. Vincent isn’t wholly objectionable or anything, and Murray could read the phone book and be watchable, but it’s relentlessly and offputtingly manipulative. It comes equipped with incessant uplifting montage music, even when there aren’t any montages. Wiki put it best in the synopsis; “the film ends with all of them at the dinner table happily eating together”. I might have lost my lunch at that point, if the sainthood presentation hadn’t already compelled me to stick my fist in my face.