St. Vincent Theodore Melfi
Published Oct 17, 2014For every award given out by the Academy over the years, there's been a handful of Oscars handed out to those who don't necessarily deserve such high praise. There was Goodfellas losing Best Picture to Dances with Wolves in 1991; Roberto Benigni winning Best Actor for his role in Life is Beautiful over Edward Norton for America History X in 1999. But perhaps the biggest Oscar travesty of all was when Bill Murray's role as an actor past his prime in Lost in Translation was seriously snubbed in favour of Sean Penn's performance in Mystic River in 2004's Best Actor category. Murray-obsessed moviegoers were not amused.
That's why, when Theodore Melfi's feature-length directorial debut St. Vincent was announced, there was reason to be excited. This was Murray playing a crotchety, gambling-obsessed alcoholic from Brooklyn who is tasked with taking care of a young child. If one were to believe that description alone, it was clear his role as the title character was going to be a clear Oscar contender. It was easy to believe the hype.
Sadly, those looking for some Murray-esque redemption 11 years on shouldn't get their hopes up, because while the SNL alumnus' turn as an unlikely caregiver is a gratifying watch, the same can't be said for the rest of the film.
When a young boy (Jaeden Lieberher) and his mother (Melissa McCarthy) in the midst of a messy divorce move into a new neighbourhood, retired war veteran Vincent offers to take care of the boy after school in return for some extra cash to pay off his gambling debt and to help support his pregnant Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts) and ailing wife. Shenanigans ensue, as Melfi sets up numerous situations in which Vincent can showcase his poor life choices (i.e. subsisting on sardines) and poor parenting skills (taking the boy to the racetrack; teaching him how to break a man's nose with a well executed uppercut). It's the kind of cliché material we see time and time again in most middle-of-the-road, feel-good comedies.
Thankfully, all that talent doesn't go to waste, as every actor involved hands in a fine performance, even when faced with less than favourable subject matter. Newcomer Lieberher would steal every scene if he weren't competing with Murray, while McCarthy makes it hard to understand why she keeps being cast as increasingly crass characters when she plays the sentimental card so well here.
It's Murray who makes the movie what it is, with the always-charming actor's uncouth demeanour never feeling forced, outside of the occasional moments when the film feels overly schmaltzy. That's ultimately St. Vincent's Achilles' heel — if any other actor was playing the lead role (save for maybe Brian Cox) this film would be half as watchable and twice as mediocre.