Skip to main content

Why is he mowing your dirty patch?

St. Vincent
(2014)

(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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

All the way up! We’ll make it cold like winter used to be.

Soylent Green (1973)
(SPOILERS) The final entry in Chuck Heston’s mid-career sci-fi trilogy (I’m not counting his Beneath the Planet of the Apes extended cameo). He hadn’t so much as sniffed at the genre prior to 1967, but over the space of the next half decade or so, he blazed a trail for dystopian futures. Perhaps the bleakest of these came in Soylent Green. And it’s only a couple of years away. 2022 is just around the corner.

Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that shit just goes right out the window.

Black Hawk Down (2001)
(SPOILERS) Black Hawk Down completed a trilogy of hits for Ridley Scott, a run of consistency he’d not seen even a glimmer of hitherto. He was now a brazenly commercial filmmaker, one who could boast big box office under his belt where previously such overt forays had seen mixed results (Black Rain, G.I. Jane). It also saw him strip away the last vestiges of artistic leanings from his persona, leaving behind, it seemed, only technical virtuosity. Scott was now given to the increasingly thick-headed soundbite (“every war movie is an anti-war movie”) in justification for whatever his latest carry-on carried in terms of controversial elements, and more than happy to bed down with the Pentagon (long-standing collaborators with producer Jerry Bruckheimer) to make a movie that, while depictinga less than auspicious intervention by the US military (“Based on an Actual Event” is a marvellous catch-all for wanton fabrication), managed to turn it into a parade of heroes pe…

Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***