Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) is not a nice guy. Rude, narcissistic, drunken and poor, the retiree spends his days either at the racetrack – gambling the little money he has away – at the bar, or with pregnant prostitute Daka (Naomi Watts), seemingly the only person he has some semblance of a relationship with. When recently divorced Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) moves in next door to Vincent’s ramshackle home with her young son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), the pair unsurprisingly get off on the wrong foot. But single motherhood proves difficult for Maggie, with long hours forcing her to hire Vincent to babysit Oliver after school. While Vincent’s idea of after school activities are wildly inappropriate, Oliver seems to connect with the man, and the duo form an unlikely friendship.
Reading the synopsis of this film kind of makes you want to roll your eyes and sigh, “not another one of those unlikely child/adult relationship movies”. The grumpy old man stereotype has been done time and time again, and in all honesty, I figured this was going to be a pretty forgettable film. Instead what I found in St. Vincent was an unexpected amount of heart, humour and poignancy, that more than once had me reaching for the tissue box.
The plot mightn’t be particularly original, but I found the characters were fleshed out well, with this sense of normality or averageness that made them believable and relatable. They were flawed, but not in any horrible or villainous kind of way; even Vincent doesn’t tip the scale to ‘bad’ or ‘evil’, in fact, you feel more sorry for him, particularly when the source of his bitterness is revealed. These are just everyday people with, for the most part, everyday problems, and it’s a real joy when a Hollywood comedy such as this can capture normal life in a humerous and moving way. There were one or two parts of the film that I found myself questioning the validity and even the purpose of, but for the most part this was a realistic and enjoyable story.
What also made this film standout amongst all the others of its genre that are constantly being pumped out of America was the surprisingly good performances from all the cast members. While Melissa McCarthy and Bill Murray usually stick to the comedy side of things, St. Vincent actually called for a number of dramatic scenes, which both managed to pull off seamlessly, Bill Murray in particular showing us a side of him we rarely get to see. Naomi Watts has earned herself a SAG supporting actress nomination for her role as the Russian hooker Daka, who has an unexpected wisdom about life that’s delieved in a gruff, no-nonsense kind of way, while 11-year-old Jaeden Lieberher proved you don’t need years of experience to be a good actor. Lieberher was outstanding in his depiction of the mature-beyond-his-years Oliver, and the kid certainly has a bright future ahead of him in the biz.
From the outside, St. Vincent is just one of those fluff films you go and see when you don’t want to concentrate on a war movie or cry your eyes out in a melodrama. And sure, it is pretty cheesy, a bit predictable and the ending is a little to rosy for real-life, but this is fluff you can really get behind. It’s an enjoyable, heart-warming and ultimately uplifting little movie that proves even the grumpiest of old men have a soft centre inside.
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