I love Bill Murray. We all do, don’t we? He can nearly do no wrong. Ok, he’s done a few movies he’d probably like to forget about, but let’s face it, even a bad Bill Murray movie is still pretty watchable. Remember Quick Change, or Larger Than Life, the one with the elephant? I know, right? You probably didn’t remember until I said that. But even in those early 80’s comedies – during the Caddyshack, Stripes and Ghostbusters days – Bill Murray clearly wanted to do something more dramatic. The Razor’s Edge was his first stab at it, but we couldn’t take him seriously as an audience. I had trouble getting past that face. I had seem him too much on Saturday Night Live, and then Caddyshack. How could I look at him and not associate him with being funny? Not until Groundhog Day could I, or any of us, I suspect, really connect with him on even a slightly serious or romantic level. But that movie gave him a chance to prove he had a dramatic side.
Bill Murray had to inch his way into more varied and dramatic roles. But the patience has paid off. We can thank director Wes Anderson for giving Murray the more layered comedy roles but it was Lost In Translation that really allowed us to see Murray’s ability to be a dramatic actor. Maybe we needed him to be older, more mature? Maybe it was jsut that we needed to be eased into it? Whatever the case, Bill Murray is now the king of off-beat humor with a emotional dramatic side. There’s a sort of melancholy in his eyes now that is quite affecting. And he uses that effectively here in St. Vincent.
Oliver, a young boy whose parents have just divorced, finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the grouchy, misanthropic, ribald, boozy war veteran that lives next door. That would be Vincent. Yeah, he’s a peach. Definitely Bill at his Murray-est, but a bit more of an asshole. Oliver and his mom, Maggie, played by the great Melissa McCarthy, start off on the wrong foot when the moving guys they hired back their truck into Vincent’s tree and damage his car.
A few days later, Maggie, at a new job, has to work late and asks Vincent to watch Oliver for a few hours. He relunctantly agrees, as long as he gets paid for his time. And so begins Vincent and Oliver’s relationship. It builds somewhat like you’d expect. Vincent takes Oliver to inappropriate places, helps him defend himself against bullies, and generally teaches him things to help him grow up. And it’s all done Bill Murray style, and with a more or less sense of humor and fun. And did I mention it was with Bill Murray?
But along the way, as we see Vincent during his own time alone, we discover that there are some significant financial concerns for him. He has gambling debts, he’s overdrawn at his bank, he can no longer get loans on his house. We eventually see the reason for all this, and it’s heart-breaking. Though to most – well, ok, pretty much all – people see Vincent as this misanthropic, irresponsible prick of an old man, young Oliver sees something more. At one point he calls him “a sad old man”. It’s Oliver’s subsequent research into Vincent’s life, via the few people that know him, that shines a light on his true nature and worth that so few have been privy to.
I really liked this movie. Maybe it’s the warm/fuzzy/squishy side of me but I’m clearly not so jaded that I can’t get the feels St. Vincent offers. The cast is great; Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd as Oliver’s priest/teacher and Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver. Naomi Watts as Vincent’s Russian stripper girlfriend is amusing almost to the point of caricature – but stops just short as to stay believable.
St. Vincent is funny as you would expect for a Bill Murray film, and yet he manages to convey such a sense of internal sorrow and depth. He is really great in this. Dare we use the term ‘dramedy’, but hey, if the shoe fits. Close to four kittenhands for me. If you love Bill Murray, you should totally see this.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, putting this up there with Lost In Translation and Broken Flowers for me.