REVIEW: St. Vincent | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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three halfDirector: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher
Cert: 12A
Run Time: 102 Minutes

Bill Murray has this knack of seeming to not act at all but conjure all of the emotions under the sun. He can say more with a simple tilt of his head than most actors can flying into a rage or crying their eyes out. This completely deadpan appearance has served him well over the past two decades, particularly in his more indie roles. It’s somewhat surprising, then, to see Bill Murray actually acting in St. Vincent. He has a strong Brooklyn accent. He often breaks out of the deadpan. He strokes Felix, his cat.

This all comes as a slight surprise because Vincent McKenna is not unlike many of the characters Murray has played in the past. Vin is, essentially, a misunderstood loner who spits out caustic one-liners and alienates those around him. He may or may not have made a stripper pregnant and he gambles and drinks with passion.

This changes – for the most part – when he starts looking after Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), the son of his new neighbor, single working mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy). After seeing Oliver get beaten up by some bullies from his new school, Vincent teaches him to fight. After their bond has developed somewhat, Vincent begins to take Oliver to his favourite places: the bar, the racetrack and, most surprisingly, the expensive upstate care home where his wife resides.

The storyline is almost achingly predictable and it all ends on an intensely high note but luckily the narrative isn’t what makes St. Vincent so compelling. Most of the charm and wit of the film comes from the scenarios that Vincent and Oliver find themselves in, particularly Vincent’s attempt to teach his young charge the ways of the world. This often leads to surreal and highly witty set-pieces. Oliver mowing his babysitter’s “lawn” (basically a yard filled with a handful of weeds and dust) leads to Vincent declaring “he has to learn how the world works someday.”

st-vincent

Most of the charm and wit of the film comes from the scenarios that Vincent and Oliver find themselves in

Perhaps one of the funniest moments in the film comes from one of the most tragic events. Since Bill Murray does pathos as well, perhaps even better, than he does comedy, there’s always an underlying feeling of melancholia running through St. Vincent. When Oliver declares that Vin is “a very sad man,” it’s wholly believable; underneath the quirky exterior and aggressive nature is a broken man who doesn’t feel he has anything to live for. Luckily, while the melancholic elements of St. Vincent are on show, they never feel overly sickly or played to gain a reaction from the audience. There’s usually a punchline at the end to even out the darker undertones of the film without ever erasing them from view entirely.

Generally, the harsher scenes are made infinitely more light-hearted by the presence of Daka (Naomi Watts), a pregnant Russian stripper. Daka isn’t comic relief (there are no completely serious characters in the film) but she brings with her an air of hilarity wherever she goes. Watts basically steals every scene she’s in, tottering around in ludicrously high heels and being extremely blunt at every opportunity. Her attempt to pole dance with a rather large pregnancy bump is both painful and somehow compelling to watch, while her acidic one-liners and observations provide a feminine ying to Vincent’s yang.

St. Vincent is by no means a ground-breaking or brimming with new ideas but it is loving and sweet without being cloying or leaving a bad taste. It’s a feel-good Christmas treat topped off with some wonderfully engaging performances.

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