When I see his face on the poster for a film, I watch it. That face belongs to Bill Murray, one of my favourite actors in history. This Murray fronted picture was written and directed by Theodore Melfi whose career in filmmaking until this point has been with short films, and boy oh boy has he shone in his feature film debut. I am perhaps giving too much of my opinion away in this opening paragraph, but this film took me by surprise with just how good it was. Here’s why.
An old, grumpy and reclusive Vietnam vet, Vincent (Murray) is struggling financially and lives a life that consists of heavy drinking, smoking, visiting strip-clubs and falling behind on his monetary commitments partially due to his repeated visits to the race track. Suddenly a woman named Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her young son, Oliver (Jaeden Lierberher) move in next door to Vincent, and when Maggie finds herself in a tough spot in her new job, she turns to the bad-tempered Vincent for help in watching her son after school. He agrees to do so, for a fee, and we witness the relationship between Vincent and Oliver come together. Teaching Oliver the ways of the world through his eyes, including how to stand up for himself with a good thrust to the nose, Vincent and Oliver form a bond based on their singular loneliness. Vincent struggles through a variety of personal matters that force him into desperate circumstances, and Oliver and his mother, Maggie, are struggling with their new life away from Oliver’s father who had cheated on Maggie. The film follows the relationship between Oliver and Vincent, as well as the people in their lives, including Daka (Naomi Watts), a prostitute with a temper who has a volatile yet somehow loyal bond with Vincent.
I didn’t know what to expect with this movie, and that may explain just why I was bashed in the mouth by the quality of the performances on offer here, and a story that made me laugh heartily and shed a tear too. Bill Murray is not exactly an actor with a lack of brilliant film roles on his belt, but this is Murray on form, this is Bill Murray with a passion and vibrant edge to him that I haven’t seen in a while. He plays Vincent with such vigour and dynamism that I will be shocked if this doesn’t stir up some awards for Mr. Murray in the next few months. It is that good. Lierberher as Oliver puts forth a grand performance too, especially considering his young age and lack of experience. He is both believable and likeable and his scenes with Murray are completely enjoyable to watch. McCarthy as Maggie, a mother who is fighting and scrapping to put food on the table and keep her son happy while under strain and stress, is excellent too. She shows emotion seldom seen in her better-known comedic roles, and I think it may surprise some people just how good she is in St. Vincent. Watts, as Daka, is a blast too. She’s the foul-mouthed and brash comedy relief of the film, which I wasn’t expecting given that my experience with Watts’ career has seen her in serious roles. She’s great here, and she even pulls off her Russian accent convincingly.
The story of an unlikely bond has been seen before plenty of times, but it’s the performances, especially from Murray, that set this apart from the pack. The delivery from Murray throughout the movie, and the way he brings so many elements to a character that may have, in some hands, felt one-dimensional, is fantastic. The writing from Melfi is top dollar, and it allows the characters to look like diamonds. I was fully invested in the story and the characters and enjoyed every moment I spent with them and their flawed personalities. That’s another thing that was more than evident here. Flaws. The film shows the deepest and darkest of flaws in the characters, an honesty that some films would shy away from, especially when it comes to the lead characters. This allows us to see what makes the characters likeable, and also why we might hate them too.
While some smaller side-characters feel a little unnecessary and the plot isn’t the most original in the world, there is so much to like about this movie. It makes you laugh, then cry and then laugh again, and brings about some tremendous showings from the cast. With all the good that the film has going for it, the thing that stands at the top is that face on the poster again, that face that will always sell tickets to me. Bill Murray. Brilliant work Bill, once again.