Film Review: St. Vincent

Written by Marisa Carpico

St. Vincent poster

St. Vincent Plot Summary:

When single mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door, Vincent (Bill Murray) sees an opportunity to make a little cash and offers to watch Oliver after school. The two form an unlikely bond and Vin, as he prefers to be called, turns out to not be such an awful curmudgeon after all.

It’s that time of year, when beloved actors with a distinct lack of awards on their mantel unleash showy, dramatic performances about often unhinged, sometimes sick,and always hard-to-love characters to begin courting Oscar buzz.

In 2012, Bill Murray played Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson and initial buzz went nowhere. This year in St. Vincent, he plays Vin, a rude alcoholic with a gambling addiction who just might have a heart under all that hostility. Yet hard as Murray works in the role, this probably won’t be his year either.

st. vincent poster

Don’t get me wrong, Murray shows a lot of range in the film. Prickly and unsympathetic at the beginning, he morphs into something softer as we learn that his attitude isn’t so much a choice but a response to some major disappointments in life. But is that really any excuse? There’s a passing reference made to the horrors of Vietnam and there’s a really engaging subplot that’s stolen directly from The Notebook. However, none of this really absolves Vin of his selfishness or hatefulness. Other than the fact that he begrudgingly helps a few characters – never mind that he’s exploiting them at the same time – it’s unclear why anyone would rally around him. Nor does there seem to be much justification for his change of heart other than that, in both cases, the genre demands it.

In fact, that’s the film’s real problem, how formulaic it is. Every event is telegraphed and there’s a sense of just waiting around for the inevitable conclusion. Even the title in itself spoils the ending. Oliver’s teacher (Chris O’Dowd), also a priest, seems to give lessons exclusively on Catholic saints and when he assigns his students to find a modern day saint in their own lives, there’s no doubt who Oliver will choose.

Even so, St. Vincent wouldn’t be the first Oscar-bait movie to stick to a predictable narrative trajectory. Many past Oscar winners have the same “heartwarming with an edge” tone — take Silver Linings Playbook as a recent example. The difference in the case of that film, however, was that the whole cast had interesting material to work with. Here, everyone but Murray is under-served by the material—perhaps with the exception of Liberher, who, unlike those over-acting children on Gotham, makes Oliver seem like a normal, nerdy kid in need of guidance.

St. Vincent poster

The adults aren’t so lucky. Terrence Howard does what he can as a human plot device. Naomi Watts should fire her agent for her embarrassing turn as a pregnant Russian prostitute. Chris O’Dowd does the wry, quick-talking humor bit he did much better in Bridesmaids. But it’s his costar from that film, McCarthy, who feels like the biggest waste. The actress has struggled to find a proper showcase for her talents since that film. Despite being known for comedy, she is surprisingly adept at drama and she pretty much plays the straight man in this film. Sadly, her character’s motivations and emotions are shockingly unexplored, but she does get one great scene though.

In that scene, Maggie, who’s been ignored and insulted by Vin throughout the film, finally finds sympathetic ears in the form of O’Dowd and the monsignor at Oliver’s school. While discussing a fight Oliver had with a classmate, we hear about all the heartbreak she’s only been able to suggest before: the cheating husband, his cruel attempts to make her life harder without him, and her own feelings of inadequacy as a mother. It’s all very moving and one of the few moments where the movie acknowledges that Vin isn’t the only person living a hard life. Unfortunately for Maggie, both men of the cloth seem uncomfortable over her sincerity, almost frightened by it, and eager to return to the comedic aloofness of earlier in the scene. Though they aren’t really to blame, the whole movie is similarly afflicted —  St.Vincent is one of the most insincere feel-good movie you’ll see this year.

Rating: 4/10

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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.