(MA15+) Starring: Bill Murray, Naomi Watts, Melissa McCarthy
Vincent (Bill Murray) lives a less than desirable life. First time director, Theodore Melfi, does a masterful job of slowly painting a despairing, but hopeful portrait of his film’s central character. Vincent seems to be a man at the end of himself, but is holding onto a glimmer of hope for tomorrow. He is a lonely drunk who has no money, a gambling problem, and a pregnant, prostitute girlfriend named Daka (Naomi Watts). To add to his misery, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a recent divorcee and her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), move in next door.
Through a desperate twist of events, Vincent sees the opportunity to earn some money from Maggie. She needs a daytime carer for Oliver and, surprisingly, she takes him up on his offer to watch over her son. The layers of the story begin to become evident as Oliver transitions to a new school, Maggie works through life as a divorcee and Vincent tries to figure out how to get out of his abysmal financial situation.
As the drama unfolds, a friendship between Oliver and Vincent comes to life. The friendship builds as their pasts are revealed, which allow them to understand more about each other. They begin to help each other through the challenges of their different seasons of life. Vincent’s past also reveals the reason for his financial plight and his grumpy demeanour. Through the story, he begins to see that the burdensome people that have come into his life are actually the means to his salvation. In this way, St. Vincent turns from being a coming-of-age film to a story of human interdependence and community.
The raw storyline of St. Vincent comes from exposure to the messiness of life. Melfi has written and directed a multi-layered story that capitalises on beautifully, imperfect characters. Murray fits into the character of Vincent as comfortably as the socks and sandals he wears throughout the film. His on-screen presence as the lovable grump has only been rivalled in cinema by the late Walter Matthau. Both of these actors developed a rare quality that should repel the characters around them, but usually ends up causing an opposite effect.
Even though Vincent does not have much to give, he does try to give the best of what he has to offer, which makes him endearing. What adds to the appeal of this film is the superb supporting cast of McCarthy, Watts and Chris O’Dowd (Calvary). This ensemble complements Murray and brings the story along well. However, the true key to the ensemble is the new talent, Lieberher. Even as a child actor, he manages to have a poise and maturity that keeps pace with the delivery of O’Dowd, Murray and McCarthy. Even during the film’s darkest moments, the well-blended characters provide a lightness and believability that delivers the depth needed to carry the audience through to the end.
Like the main character’s personality, St Vincent has a bite that cannot be ignored. Life’s realities, the themes and the language make this a film suitable for adults.* The film seems to be written for those who can appreciate the depth of pain, suffering and other frustrations of life.
St. Vincent is for those who have lived through a fair bit of life themselves.
The audience connection with Vincent is not due to the appeal of his lifestyle, but because of the reality that the human condition is flawed and the flaws give us the spice in our lives and draw us together. His excessive drinking, promiscuous acts and gambling are never justified in the film, but help add to the sympathy for Vincent and give a hope that he can come out from underneath these struggles.
St Vincent is a well-crafted and acted film, and much credit goes to the writing and directing of Melfi, who has made a good film that manages to bring beauty out of the drudgery of life.
I like Bill Murray. St. Vincent just strengthens his appeal as an actor. His portrayal of Vincent seems to be too easy at times but that might be the appeal of the actor — and this film. To quote from St Vincent: ‘It is what it is.’ Quirky and often skirting too close to the edge of the reality of life for comfort, St Vincent is thought-provoking, endearing and worth seeing.
*This is a film for adults due to language and one sex scene.
What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?
- How does the Bible define what a saint is? (Acts 9:13, Philippians 4:21)
- Are we supposed to care for our family? (1 Timothy 5:8, Genesis 2:4)
- In a multi-cultural world, how can we truly know God? (John 3:16, John 14:6)
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