St. Vincent

Directed By: Theodore Melfi

Starring: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Scott Adsit, Naomi Watts, and Terrence Howard

Many folks of older generations with whom I've interacted have frequently claimed that the world has gotten worse since their heyday.  Maybe I'm cold-hearted.  Maybe I'm callous.  In my humble opinion, the world has not gotten any better or worse.  We just know more about what's happening in it.  In this digital age, every violent crime, every scandalous affair, and every patient who contracts the Ebola virus can be found somewhere on the 24-hour news cycle.  We just know too damn much for our own good.  Because of this, we've been desensitized as a society.  If some Joe falls down on his luck, it's the least of my worries.  It is what it is.  That person is SOL.  The level of apathy we have toward our fellow human beings is the problem Vincent McKenna senses in this weekend's St. Vincent.

Vincent McKenna (Bill Murray) is certainly down on his luck.  The perpetually miserable war vet owes just about everyone in Sheepshead Bay money.  A frequent drunk, this includes his bartender.  A poor gambler in horse races, this also includes local loan shark Zucko (Terrence Howard).  Vincent even owes his pregnant Russian lady of the night Daka (Naomi Watts) for services provided.  All in all, Vincent doesn't exactly have a stellar credit history or reputation in town.  Things change when Maggie Bronstein (Melissa McCarthy) and her 12 year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door to him.  A recent divorcee and new single mom, Maggie works long hours as a nurse and needs someone to babysit her son in her absence.  Despite his reputation and despite the fact that her movers damaged his car, his tree, and allegedly his fence, Vincent becomes that someone for Maggie.  In the weeks and months to follow, Vincent and Oliver spend quite a bit of time together, setting the foundation for a rather unique friendship.

We're in the midst of a year at the box office when quality is just not anywhere to be found at mainstream theaters, and we're primarily reliant on independent cinema to get our movie fix.  With this weekend's St. Vincent, director Theodore Melfi doesn't disappoint.  Delivering balanced direction that's not too light and not too heavy-handed, Melfi creates this cold, dark world that's closing in on Vincent despite his every effort to circumvent the myriad of challenges he faces.  This world Melfi crafts is all at once a setting that fosters rich and edgy comedic setups, intriguing drama, and a beautiful symbiotic friendship in which Vincent and Oliver become dependent on one another.  It's the foundation for a film filled with an array of colorful characters.

In his mid-sixties, Bill Murray is still going strong.  Still, it's rare to see him in a leading role.  With the exception of Hyde Parke on Hudson, the Ghostbusters icon has spent the last few years primarily playing supporting characters in Wes Anderson films.  Whether Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, or even The Fantastic Mr. Fox, the proof is in the pudding.  As Vincent McKenna in Melfi's comedy-drama, Murray is in good form.  Giving us a grumpy yet benevolent, conflicted yet mentoring spirit, Murray gives a nuanced performance in which he deftly showcases the many layers of Vincent's character.  After an integral plot development, he also gives a markedly physical performance that shows a side of Murray we don’t see on camera all too often.

Aside from Bill Murray, we have a solid supporting cast.  For her part as Oliver's mother Maggie, Melissa McCarthy delivers a calm performance that's both amusing and heartfelt.  As McCarthy's on-screen son Oliver, Jaeden Lieberher gives a charming performance as this decent kid getting exposed to Vincent’s indecent world.  Naomi Watts delivers a zany, foul-mouthed performance as the Russian prostitute Daka.  The always delightful Watts is definitely one of my favorites amongst the cast.  For his part as Brother Geraghty, Chris O'Dowd brings his slyly charismatic brand of humor and easily finds his funny bone.  Lastly, we have Terrence Howard as the rather smooth, laid back loan shark Zucko.  He definitely adds some flavor to the film at just the right moments.

Some are calling it a solid comedy-drama that loses steam with a sappy climax and an even sappier conclusion.  Others are calling it a middling film elevated by a terrific cast.  I'm calling this weekend's St. Vincent a damn good film that hits the spot.  Yes, it's anything but a cynical film and chastises the callousness of the world today.  Yes, it's a quirky comedy with a blend of irreverent and wholesome humor.  Yes, it's a retro film featuring an over-the-top performance or two from an impressive ensemble.  All that being said, St. Vincent is a fun film that's about finding good and beautiful human beings in the unlikeliest of places.  It's a funny reminder that saints are sinners too.  This comedy-drama gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.