Sunday, 21 December 2014

Film Review: St Vincent

St Vincent is a heart-warming tale about Vince, a retired curmudgeon who's life is given new purpose when he meets Oliver, an innocent school kid who lives next door. It stars Bill Murray in the lead role, with Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts in supporting roles.

At first glance, St Vincent may look like your run-of-the-mill coming-of-age tale - old man hates the world and spends his days drinking and smoking himself to death when a school kid moves in next door. At first the old man dislikes the kid, but after spending more time together the kid has changed the old man's perspective on life for the better. There are complications along the way, but things all tie up nicely in the end.

Done and dusted, there's your screenplay. It's a sweet story that's as old as time itself. Thankfully, the writer/director behind St Vincent (Theodore Melfi) doesn't live in a bubble and has navigated this trapping with ease, introducing new elements to a film that gives off a simplistic first impression. It's not completely revolutionary, but there are enough different factors at work for St Vincent to be worth your time.

First, let's talk about the lead, Bill Murray. Murray plays the cantankerous old slob who (supposedly) cares for nothing and no-one other than himself. It's a role that he could probably play in his sleep, so it's really great to see that he doesn't phone it in (something that someone like Bruce Willis would most likely do). Instead, Murray is the life of the party, his crass and grumbly act dropping slightly as the narrative wears on - we're slowly introduced to the various layers of an otherwise fairly cliched character, and piece by piece we come to care and empathise with Vince, rather than just guffaw at how dry and 'uncaring' he is.

The first half of the film is very formulaic, essentially a new version of About a Boy - one particular plot development at the 2/3rds mark offers breaks from this structure, and thankfully sees the plot take a surprising, tragic turn in more ways than one.

Melissa McCarthy is usually an actress that I can't stand - a lot of her movies (The Heat, Bridesmaids) are decent, but others really grind my gears (Tammy, Identity Thief) - what I'm trying to say is, she's very hit and miss. In St Vincent, she's not just bearable, but actually quite good. Her character isn't the butt of all the jokes like usual, and she doesn't overact it.

The actor who plays Oliver is a young kid called Jaeden Lieberher - much like Nicolas Hoult in the aforementioned spiritual companion About a Boy, Lieberher is the embodiment of youth, innocence and naivety who sees the kind soul beneath Vince's crusty exterior. He's a really great actor, and the scenes he shares with both Murray and McCarthy are heart-warming and humorous. Personally, I also liked the bits where Oliver confronts, and later befriends, a bigger kid at school.

My only gripe would be Naomi Watt's character, Daka. Watts plays a pregnant Russian exotic dancer/prostitute who is sorta but not really in a relationship with Vince. The problem with this is that Watts' accent is really silly and completely unnecessary - there is no reason for her character to be from Russia, and is mainly included so that we 'laugh' when she pronounces something funny, sorta like Sofia Vergara on Modern Family. The only difference is that Sofia Vergara is actually from Colombia, and that's her actual voice. With Watts, it's just plain stupid and annoying.

The rousing crescendo may irk some viewers who feel the neat little bow of an ending strays too close to sentimentality, but it's hard not to get dewey-eyed as both everything comes good for the characters. This is mainly down to the well-written script and characters we genuinely care about. The soundtrack is decent, and many of tracks are again cleverly positioned to stir the emotions inside the audience - whether that annoys you or not might say more about you than the movie.

Like I said before, some of the plot is by-the-book and formulaic, but there is enough going on here for it to feel fresh and entertaining. The arc, themes and central message of seeing the good in people and loving thy neighbour is familiar enough, but is kind of hard to care that much when the laughs (and tears) flow as easily and freely as this. St Vincent makes for a cheery, breezy and generally nice afternoon at the movies.

The Verdict: 8/10

Sugary and sweet to a fault, St Vincent sticks to the hymnbook just enough to be an easy-watch without being so formulaic it's a complete retread. Murray is the star, McCarthy doesn't annoy and Lieberher kicks off an acting career in good form. It's an uplifting and well-made dramedy that hits all the right notes.

St Vincent is in cinemas across Australia this Friday (Boxing Day)


  1. Good review. The ensemble made this work, if ever so slightly so.

    1. Yep, the cast is one of the biggest pluses. Thanks for commenting Dan :)

  2. I've heard so many differing opinions on this one. I want to see it, and will. I love Murray and Watts very much, so I'm there for them, even if Watts' character makes me cringe just thinking about it. Still, your review gives me hope.

    1. I think it's worth checking out for Murray alone. I thought I'd cringe watching McCarthy, but found that Watts was the weakest link. Still, worth watching - it's nice and light and frothy.



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