Welcome back, funny Bill Murray. After several years of making cameos and starring in indie dramas, Murray returns to his roots of comedy in “St. Vincent”, where he plays a cranky old drunk who is saddled with babysitting the son of his new neighbor, played by Melissa McCarthy. Hollywood rookie Theodore Melfi writes and directs.
It is a testament to a film when it can overcome all of its genre clichés and narrative familiarities and still be generally entertaining. “St. Vincent” is pretty standard, as we’ve seen the “grumpy guy bonds with the nerdy young kid and the two go on crazy adventures together” formula numerous times before (“Bad Santa” or “Bad Words”, for example). But in spite of all this, Murray shines in an honest, emotional and at times very funny performance.
Without Murray, chances are this movie would not work, and would have been stuck in the “schmaltzy and overdone” category. However Murray elevates the film with his dry wit, and it is a blast seeing him teach the young boy (played by Jaeden Lieberher) how to gamble on horses, mow dirt patches and stand up to bullies.
Melissa McCarthy, toning down her performance here, gives one of her best performances because she isn’t playing the swearing slob. She portrays a single mother who is simply trying to make a better life for her son, and in that he gets a few chuckles, but for the most part just displays true emotion and relatability.
The strongest points of the film are its opening act and its climax, for two very different reasons. The first scenes when we first meet Murray are genuinely funny and harken back to the golden days of his career. The final minutes of this scene are masterfully acted by the entire cast, especially Murray, who for much of the final scene speaks only with his facial expressions. The scene is very well done and will hit you right in the feels (seriously, I had a lump in my throat).
There is a point about halfway through “St. Vincent”, though, where the film seems to be aware that it is being too goofy and sentimental, and thinks it needs to fix this by adding extreme drama. This would have been fine, except the tone switch comes completely out of left field, and just doesn’t seem natural. Suddenly the movie becomes a dark, almost depressing drama, and it really just felt out of place. This likely falls on the shoulders of rookie director Melfi, but other than this one segment he does a great job mixing emotion and laughs, both with his direction and the script.
“St. Vincent” won’t win any awards for originality, but I really hope it wins something for Murray. He is the reason this film is as good and enjoyable as it is, and he alone is the reason to see this movie. It is an entertaining, multi-layered performance, and every scene he is not in, as few as there are, you notice his absence.
Critics Rating: 7/10