Bill Murray hasn’t been as perfectly cast like he is St. Vincent for a long time. Recently he has been assisting Wes Anderson with bizarre cameos or showing up in other random projects to lend a comical or heavyweight tone to other films or TV shows. It feels like a long time since Bill Murray played someone even close to “normal” but damaged. St. Vincent offers this and it is Murray at his best.
From his first scene, telling a “joke” in a forced Brooklyn accent (the weakest aspect of a pretty solid performance) Murray owns the screen and the entire movie. He is a lonely old man, losing his wife to dementia and also losing any sign of care for his own life, those around him and the feelings of anyone he interacts with. This means we get one of the funnier but much more realistic grumpy old men we have seen in film for a long time.
This isn’t just a movie for Bill Murray to be obnoxious for 90 minutes (although at times it may feel like it). Murray is the “saint” of the title and his performance requires not just grouchy but also caring. This isn’t chalk and cheese though, he isn’t playing a man with two personalities. His attempts to care for his neighbour’s son, a child who is in need of a Father-figure as much as Murray’s Vincent is in need of a friend, come with their dose of “realism” and short, shrift lessons.
The interactions between Murray and Jaeden Lieberher are the highlight of the film and the single thread the success of the film hangs on. They are funny, sweet, heartbreaking but always interesting. Murray plays off the young boy well and to his credit, Lieberher gives as good as he gets. It makes for the best moments in the movie and also means you are attached to their story, even if it is clear where the tale will end up.
The support also helps push the story along, even though it can often stretch credibility. Not so much Melissa McCarthy, who plays the young boy’s Mum, forced to rely on Vincent. This is as quiet, serious and contained as I’ve seen McCarthy. She does it well too, offering humour in her expression and the absurdity of a situation rather than by pulling focus with wacky antics.
This is left to the most random member of the cast, Naomi Watts as a pregnant Russian prostitute. Her inclusion offers opportunity for Murray to demonstrate Vincent’s heart of gold but she is so left-field and bizarre that it can jar slightly with the tone of the rest of the film.
Not that it offers enough of a difference to leave the ending in any dispute. St. Vincent may have great performances and a very funny Murray at it’s center but it still ends in a predictable fashion. There are a few surprises along the way, both involving illnesses and hospitalisation but where the story is heading is flagged and sign-posted pretty early on. This doesn’t necessarily hamper the enjoyment of the film, it is just with so many great parts making up the whole, you kind of hope for something better from the final act.
Overall, St. Vincent works because of two great performances. Bill Murray is back on form as the titular Vincent and gets to be grouchy, obnoxious, rude but always hilarious. It also demonstrates some acting talent that Murray doesn’t show often enough anymore. Alongside him is the young boy, Jaeden Lieberher, who plays off Murray well considering his age and inevitable inexperience. The film is hampered by one bizarre casting choice and predictable end but the two central characters will suck you in too much to care.
Rating – 4
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