When it comes to balancing comedy and pathos, few can straddle the line quite like Bill Murray. Displayed in features such as Groundhog Day and Broken Flowers, the actor has a distinct ability to play heavily flawed, often quite unlikeable characters, and making them, well, likeable. St. Vincent is the perfect example of this, with a leading role that could only truly be perfected by this remarkable performer.
Murray plays Vincent, a grumpy, lonely old man who cares little for others, epitomised in his ever increasing debt owed to local hard-man Zucko (Terrence Howard) which he appears to have no desire of ever paying off, instead opting to gamble and drink away his worries. But needing a quick cash fix, he sees the perfect opportunity when new neighbours arrive, as single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) requires childcare for her teenage son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) given her demanding working hours. Unsure at first, the young boy’s blissful naïveté allows him to see the good in Vincent, which, in turn, may just allow Vincent to see the good in himself, and the big bad world that surrounds him.
This sophomore feature from writer/director Theodore Melfi is persistently comedic, allowing Murray, McCarthy and a resurgent Naomi Watts to shine in their respective roles. However Melfi never loses sight of the more intimate and nuanced elements of the production, being a film that displays a certain degree of poignancy and profundity to make it memorable. He offers a heightened take on reality but never compromises the more naturalistic elements of the narrative, allowing the viewer the chance to revel in the absurdity of it all, and yet to identify with several characters and the themes at play.
With both narrative and structural similarities to About a Boy, St. Vincent is undoubtedly as accomplished a piece of cinema, managing to stay sweet, charming and compelling throughout. Yes, yes it’s Oscar bait, and is suffocated at times by it’s unsubtle predictability, but hey, every now and then it’s perfectly acceptable to immerse yourself in a film of this ilk. As Vincent would say himself, fuck it. Enjoy yourself.