September 5, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto 2014 Review: “St. Vincent”


ST. VINCENT (Weinstein) – Opens October 24 – Worth A Ticket

Bill Murray has perfected the persona of the grouchy, reluctant hero.  The image has even attached itself to him professionally:  although he’s not close to being even semi-retired (ST. VINCENT, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and opens next month, will be his third movie in 2014 alone–and that doesn’t count the HBO miniseries he has airing in November), he’s become famous for only reluctantly accepting roles when the stars are aligned and a script manages to open the magic door in his head.  All of that makes him ideal not only for his role in St. Vincent, but for the aggressive campaign Harvey Weinstein has made it clear he’s about to undertake to get Murray a serious position in the Best Actor race.  Murray’s work in St. Vincent is far from his most subtle compared to Lost In Translation or Rushmore, and it may very well be less brilliant than other performances we’ll see this year, but it’s ineffably Murray, and in a guaranteed crowd-pleasing form.

St. Vincent is a personal film for its writer/director Theodore Melfi (his first feature), but it plays out as a combination of As Good As It Gets, Up and About A Boy.  Murray’s Vincent is a misanthropic, heavy-drinking gambler with a temper, whose miserable but settled existence in Sheepshead Bay (one of the remaining ungentrified regions of Brooklyn) is invaded by his new neighbors, single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).  She’s just broken up with her husband and is working late hours as an X-ray technician to support them; Vincent is always home anyway and short of cash.  He agrees to become Oliver’s babysitter, and things proceed along exactly the trajectory you’d expect.  Vincent introduces the sheltered Oliver to fighting, horseracing, bars, and his own pregnant, Russian stripper/hooker girlfriend Daka (Naomi Watts), and Oliver awakens Vincent’s dormant grandfatherly side. 

As a moviemaker, Melfi is strictly an assembly-line worker, and he loads the dice in Vincent’s favor by revealing early on that even before Maggie and Oliver arrived, there was an sad aspect of Vincent’s life in which he was far from a curmudgeon.  There’s no question about Vincent being redeemed by the end credits, because he was never all that lost to begin with.  (The title is far closer to being literal than you’d want to believe.)   The movie works, though.  Melfi knows how to write superior sitcom-level comedy, and he has the James L. Brooksian gift for mixing broad laughs with sentiment.

And, of course, he has a dream cast.  Murray’s deadpan is so expert that he barely has to move a muscle in his face to get any laugh he wants, and he’s a skilled dramatic actor as well, one who brings blessed restraint to the script’s sentimental excesses.  Lieberher, whose first movie this is, appears to be a natural, able to match Murray’s dry touch with his own and suggest an inner core of toughness to Oliver even before Vincent brings it out.  McCarthy, in a supporting role, wallops her big dramatic scenes even while getting her laughs, and shows that there’s much more to her abilities than is visible in the high-concept comedies that have made her a star.  Conversely, Naomi Watts appears to be having a ball in a rare comic role, slathering on her Russian accent like sour cream on a blini.  Chris O’Dowd is sparkling in his small part as Oliver’s teacher at the Catholic school where Maggie enters him, despite Oliver being Jewish.

As is often the case with first-time comedy movie directors, Melfi’s work doesn’t show much visual life (the cinematography is by the veteran John Lindley), and the movie is given an even more anonymous feel by the bland songs plastered on the soundtrack in several places.  Those kinds of flaws keep the movie from feeling special, but they’re not fatal.  Melfi delivers the laughs and, later in the game, puts lumps in the throat.  While unlikely to be a critical smash, St. Vincent may make both audiences’ and Academy members’ eyes glisten, and that could certainly put Bill Murray in the Dolby Theater on Oscar night.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."