“St. Vincent” is amusing, but it’s overly-sentimental tone and barrage of clichés dampen its lasting appeal. The entire trajectory of the story is painfully obvious from the get-go, but star Bill Murray is such a joy to watch that he makes the journey worthwhile.
Murray plays Vincent, a curmudgeonly alcoholic riddled with debt who offers to babysit his neighbour’s son solely as a means of getting some extra cash to blow at the racetrack. As one might expect, over time, we learn that underneath his hostile exterior lies a heart of gold. This familiar plot can be applied to a great number of other films, but “St. Vincent” distances itself from the pack solely because it’s a starring vehicle for Bill Murray. He elevates every scene with his sarcastic banter and sheer indifference to everyone else.
Melissa McCarthy is underused as Murray’s overworked neighbour, Maggie, who is too busy working long hours to provide for her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) since her husband left the family. This is just one of many sappy flourishes that exists to get a rise out of the audience and make them reach for some Kleenex. McCarthy doesn’t have much to do here and pretty much is there to react to Bill Murray’s kooky antics, which is a shame considering how talented and funny she can be when given a proper role. Naomi Watts is also great in a rare comedic role that proves she can tackle just about anything.
Early in the film, Oliver’s teacher (played by the always hilarious Chris O’Dowd) assigns the students to find a “real life saint,” and it’s clear where the story is headed. There are zero surprise along the way as Murray and the boy start to bond — it essentially plays out like a less-crass “Bad Santa.” It is so familiar that without Murray, it’s likely the film never would have made it to the big screen.
That being said, it’s easy to just sit back and enjoy the ride as Murray’s on-screen presence is enough of a driving force to carry the film and make you forget that you already know what’s going to happen. It’s fun to watch the closed off, abrasive Vincent deal with a sweet innocent kid, which is basically the whole movie. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just too overt and safe. By the time it circles back to Oliver’s presentation on sainthood, it plays out how you’d expect, and then it’s over.
“St. Vincent” is too concerned with manipulating the audience’s emotions to truly be a great film. It’s a rollercoaster of emotional peaks and valleys that just wants to make you feel good by the end, and the audience I saw it with seemed to eat it all up. Murray makes the most of it, though, and gives a thoroughly entertaining performance that makes it easy to forgive the film’s many shortcomings.
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