In what could be seen as a relatively procedural drama and crowd-pleaser, St. Vincent showed a knack for mixing both the lighthearted moments in with the dark and thanks to the powerhouse performance by its star, Bill Murray, was able to escape being too cliche and ring a relatively sweet-natured message within the confines of something we have all seen many times before.
St. Vincent stars Murry as Vincent, a grouchy and down on his luck man who is looking to make enough money to get by and take care of the many problems that he has created for himself. His latest paycheck comes from his new neighbor, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), who begrudgingly lets her son Oliver (Jaeden Liesberher) stay with Vincent when he gets home from school while she finishes up her shift as at the hospital.
The story of young boy bringing the old man out of his crotchety ways is something seen before, but luckily for Melfi’s film, it has Murray giving a stellar performance that shows how well he can still carry a movie. Not to be too outdone is Liesberher in the role of Oliver, who plays off Murray’s antics well and is able to create a lovable protagonist to root for along the troubled and flawed Vincent.
It is easy to write-off St. Vincent for being a general crowd-pleaser, but the performance by Murray makes it something more and gives the film life and the ability to tell a small story without overstepping its bounds and trying to give too preachy of a message. St. Vincent always knows what it is, and without much flash to go along with it, shifts the focus to Oliver and Vincent as much as possible as the side characters never really flesh out to be anything but minor attractions.
One side character, Daka (Naomi Watts), is a weak-link in the casting chain as the film has Watts playing an Eastern European stripper who is constantly employed by Vincent and is currently in the later stages of pregnancy. There is also Oliver’s mom, Maggie, who has touching moments and is played well by McCarthy, but is relegated to being the emotional punching bag due to off-screen issues with her husband (Scott Adsit) and not being around Oliver as much as she would like.
Other familiar faces like Terrence Howard and Chris O’Dowd that pop up try and give life to the otherwise lifeless world that surrounds the main characters, but is unable to do so as charming as O’Dowd can be at times. There just isn’t much around Vincent and Oliver, and while those two light up the screen when they are there, the lack of reason to watch who is around them makes this film lack the re-watchability that other films like it have.
But overall, sometimes it is nice to dive into a small little nook of the world and try and find empathy with characters that have some reality to them, especially due to the work of Murray, and St. Vincent finds that even if it is only in two people. While at times, movies tend to try and make sense of the grander scheme of things, this film is only invested in the grander scheme of these few characters and the arc they go through is satisfying to see.
St. Vincent never tries to be more than it is, a crowd-pleaser fueled by a great acting performance, but it uses this knowledge to its strength and crafts a solid film that has a sweet message.