Film review: ST. VINCENT, from Built For Speed

St Vincent is a charming if flawed feel-good comedy drama that provides another showcase for Bill Murray’s amusing brand of misanthropy.

Murray plays Vincent a familiar figure in American cinema, the rude, miserable, middle-aged grump neighbour who disdains anyone interfering with his self-contained, self-serving world.  When his new neighbour, kindly single mum Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is forced to work late, Vincent finds himself the unexpected and reluctant baby sitter to Maggie’s frail, socially awkward son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).  At first, Vincent, whose rampant gambling has left him in debt to bookie Terrence Howard, is only interested in the money but soon a more fulfilling relationship develops between Vincent and Oliver.

The first half of this film is terrific as we’re introduced to the irascible, contemptuous Vincent and unfortunate neighbours who have to cope with this hard-drinking curmudgeon.  In his feature debut director Theodore Melfi infuses the film with humour and pathos as he reveals the three main characters’ struggles. The film also benefits from an excellent soundtrack that includes new tracks from Tweedy and the Bob Dylan classic Shelter from the Storm.

After this wonderful first half the film becomes a little predictable as it pilfers plot-lines from films like As Good As It Gets and particularly About A Boy with the anti-social older male imparting life lessons to the fragile child.  There seems to be some inherent sexism in Hollywood that suggests that single mothers, whether it’s Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets, Jodie Foster in Little Man Tate, Toni Collette in About A Boy or Toni Collette (again) in The Sixth Sense, will produce frail, socially dysfunctional boys.

Despite some script problems and clichés the film wins us over because of the wonderful central performance from Bill Murray. Just watching Bill Murray’s bemused expression and dead-pan delivery is worth the price of admission.  It’s also refreshing to see Melissa McCarthy convincingly pull off a serious role. She was quickly turning into the female Adam Sandler but she displays intelligence and restraint here.  Jaeden Lieberher delivers a fine performance for a youngster and succeeds in gaining our sympathies.  Naomi Watts is amusing as an admittedly stereotyped trashy Russian stripper who just happens to be pregnant with the much older Vincent’s baby.  The ubiquitous Chris O’Dowd has a cameo as a wise-cracking priest and while he is always an amusing and lively presence, his well-established screen persona is actually distracting in such a small role.

St Vincent is hardly ground-breaking cinema but it succeeds so well as a low-key humanist comedy/drama that it’s hard to resist.

Nick’s rating: ****.

Genre: Comedy/ Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Theodore Melfi.

Release date: 26th Dec 2014

Running time: 102 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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