Bill Murray shines as a grumpy-golden coot-next-door
Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and Jaeden Lieberher
Directed by Theodore Melfi
Bill Murray has carved out a comfortable three-decade movie niche playing sweet-natured troublemakers, loveable oafs and world-weary wiseasses. So the grumpy old coot-next-door he now portrays, at age 64, in St. Vincent seems like a perfect fit, a natural progression.
Murray’s character, Vincent, becomes the caretaker of a 10-year-old boy, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), after Oliver and his stressed-out single mom, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) become his new neighbors—Vincent is strapped for cash and Maggie’s in a bind. Not knowing anyone else, she enlists Vincent to watch Oliver after school and evenings while she works.
“He’s sort of cool, in a grouchy sort of way,” Oliver tells his mother after a few afternoons in Vincent’s care. “Too old to be dangerous, but not too old to be too dangerous.”
Vincent is hardly any mom’s dream babysitter; he drinks, he smokes, he gambles, and he takes Oliver along to the bar and the racetrack. He teaches Oliver to fight and to stand up to the bully at school. It’s no real surprise when Vincent becomes a surrogate father figure to the scrawny, sensitive lad, whose own dad, we learn, is contesting his mother for Oliver’s custody.
It’s a familiar, often sitcom-ish setup, one that most viewers will recognize from a long parade of TV and movie characters who’ve marched before, from W.C. Fields to Uncle Buck. But Murray and his fellow cast members elevate the material far above the basics, giving the story a rich, lived-in texture with grit, laughter, warmth and an easygoing dramatic groove that cuts through the script’s clichés.
We learn why Vincent seems to have given up on almost everything, why he’s out of money, and why he’s willing to gamble away what little he has left. We watch Oliver emerge from his shell, more enabled and emboldened to take on the world. And we understand the connection between Oliver’s school assignment about saints, the title of the movie, and a school assembly where everything comes together.
Murray is a gem, the scruffy, gruff-y glue that holds it all together and keeps it from flecking off into granules of sugary-sweet cuteness. It’s a treat to see McCarthy in a role where she gets to play it straight, freed from comedic slapstick and shenanigans. Watts is a hoot—and seems to be having one, too—as Vincent’s pregnant Russian stripper girlfriend. And Lieberher, as Oliver, is a natural in front of the camera who can hold his own, even when sharing the frame with the formidable funnyman.
St. Vincent, in limited release but gaining in popularity, may not be playing “in a theater near you.” But it’s well worth going the extra mile if you have to seek it out; you’ve probably heard Bill Murray’s name cropping up for some awards at the end of this movie year. And by all means, stay until the end—the very end. The extended sequence that plays under the credits, with Murray (as Vincent) singing along to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm”—the whole song—as he blithely waters a forlorn-looking potted plant with an uncooperative garden hose, is a sublime bit of blissed-out backyard karaoke that is itself almost worth the price of your ticket.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine