I’m having a difficult time coming up with anything interesting to say about Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent that hasn’t been said before due to the film doing nothing we haven’t seen before.
Bill Murray plays Vincent, a cantankerous old grump who lives alone with his cat and seemingly relishes in his solitude, until one day new neighbors crash into his life. Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is a single mom who, with her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), has moved next door after a messy divorce. After being told she has to stay late for work, she asks Vincent to watch Oliver, and so begins the friendship the movie surrounds itself with.
And, in all fairness, the friendship itself is sweet. Despite Vincent’s penchant for alcohol, gambling and his overall crass nature, Oliver befriends him. Vincent turns into a pseudo-mentor who teaches Oliver how to stand up for himself and fight back against the kids who are bullying him. It works – Oliver fights back and Vincent is proud, and the two spend their time together, Oliver softening some of Vincent’s rougher edges and Vincent giving Oliver someone to look up to, even if he knows that he’s not the best of role models.
Of course the film has to get its drama from somewhere, and when Maggie learns about what’s going on, she’s understandably upset. We also learn why Vincent is the way he is, and in a big telling-not-showing montage learn about how good of a guy he really is, even if he acts like a jerk. It’s the third act and its forced sentimentality that has the film end on a sour note for me, and despite the first two thirds of the film being enjoyable, it’s not nearly enough to make this the great film that Melfi obviously wanted.
The cast does great work in the film, but it just isn’t enough to lift it above the by-the-numbers script. Bill Murray is fantastic, as always, but like the film itself it’s nothing new for the actor. When he’s given introspective moments or moments where he allows a bit of his affection for Oliver to shine through, he’s at his best. Murray is funny when he’s simply playing the grouch but is better when he’s given depth. In fact, it’s his moments with young Jaeden Lieberher that truly stick the landing in the film. Jaeden is just the right amount of precocious for a child character, and Lieberher brings his own youthful, sardonic wit to the role and he and Murray share a nice rapport.
Melissa McCarthy is also wonderful in the film despite not given nearly enough to do. Here she plays a character dialed way down compared to her most recent films, and it reminds us of why we all fell for her screen presence in the first place. She has a specific charm to her and I wish she and Murray had been able to share the screen more.
The other actors who filter in are either seen as afterthoughts (like Terrence Howard) or are simply underserved, like McCarthy and Naomi Watts. The failure in utilizing Chris O’Dowd’s talents is just shameful in a film such as this, especially for those who have seen him recently either in the small Irish film Calvary or his Broadway debut in Of Mice and Men.
On paper a film like this should work, and it has before. St.Vincent simply goes through the motions, it never tries to be anything better or different, and it simply plays it straight despite the energetic performances the actors are delivering. Melfi’s script is too barebones, it’s too by-the-numbers, and it’s never more apparent than with all of the open endings we’re left with; few actual problems are resolved despite Melfi trying to tie everything up neatly. They dismiss real consequences and conflict in order to get the sweet, feel-good moment that they wanted.
Despite the talent on board, St.Vincent just barely misses the mark, becoming an unremarkable film with a few nice moments.
St.Vincent is out now.