New to Brooklyn, bullied kid Oliver (Lieberher) forms an unlikely alliance with his next-door neighbour, Vincent (Murray) — a cantankerous, beer-guzzling slob with a surprising secret past...
The December release speaks for itself. Twinkling with goodwill to all men, here’s a film which proposes that inside every loser lies a saint — a hearty, feel-good message delivered by the most sarcastic actor in America. Actually, with its bullied teen/improbable guru odd coupling, what St. Vincent really feels like is a nostalgic throwback to the Inspirational Figure dramas of the late ’80s and early ’90s, albeit more Dead Drunk than Dead Poets.
Theodore Melfi’s movie arrives with a script written for (and rejected by) Jack Nicholson. What Bill Murray brings to the role is, well, Bill Murray. In a career specialising in jaded slobs, this is likely Murray’s last outing in such a role, a final, glorious, full-boor slob-off that loads Vincent with all sorts of satisfying baggage. There’s something weirdly familiar, and instantly lovable, about Murray’s Brooklyn grouch — squint, and you can almost see Stripes’ Private Winger, 30 years down the line, after a bodged stint in rehab and a hair-thinning divorce.
As role models go, he is, of course, instant glamour for impressionable teen Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), who Vince is cajoled into babysitting. For Oliver, Vince offers a gateway to an adult world of drinking, gambling and terrible diets. For Vincent, Oliver opens up an isolated life and a secret past. Although Melfi mines plenty of laughs from Murray’s bad-behaviour escapades, St. Vincent is, at core, a mystery story. Who exactly is this obstinate waster? And how did he end up like that? As Oliver starts to dig around Vincent’s closet, and suspected skeletons become glowing angels, the film changes key, a little clunkily, from comedy to melodrama, complete with a rousing-speech crescendo in dewy-eyed soft-focus.
Murray is toughening up some pretty soft material here, and there are undeniably some missteps — Vince’s excursions to a nursing home result in an implausibly bright halo over his head, and Melfi trusts too much in pluckety, upbeat indie muzak to guide your emotions. If the drama ultimately proves a little too treacly, though, the cast certainly don’t play it that way, with a grounded, credible turn from young Lieberher and a dialled-down Melissa McCarthy as his beleaguered single mum. Naomi Watts also appears as Murray’s heart-of-gold stripper girlfriend, a role as plausible as her gargly Russian accent
Murray’s finest, funniest, meatiest performance since Lost In Translation — just a shame it’s contained in such a lightweight dramedy.