St. Vincent is likely the closest we’ll ever get to a Bill Murray comedy again. He does dramas, art movies and even those Wes Anderson movies aren’t vehicles for his one-liners. St. Vincent gives us a little of the old Bill Murray in a vehicle that keeps his artistic sensibilities happy, though really, please make another wacky comedy. There’s no shame in those.
Vincent (Murray) is a local curmudgeon, alcoholic and gambling addict. He is funny and confronting, if not in the ‘80s Bill Murray way. He’s a little more vulgar (even Carl wasn’t swearing in Caddyshack) but he’s got some good lines, and his physical pratfalls are brilliant.
When single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) moves next door with her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), Vincent ends up babysitting the kid for extra cash. Of course Oliver benefits from Vincent’s worldly wisdom, even if it’s dark lessons, and Vincent benefits from having some responsibility.
This is no About a Boy here, though. On the surface, Vincent may be an even more abrasive character than Hugh Grant played, but from a screenwriting standpoint Vincent is the far easier evolution: Sad loser’s life improves with kids. About a Boy dared to show a man brazenly enjoying his selfish lifestyle and celebrate his clever manipulation of available single moms. Grant’s character in About a Boy doesn’t actually become a better person. He’s just there and being there is simply better than not being there. It’s also funnier.
St. Vincent is always honest about the dangerous edge to Vincent. He is endearingly gruff and abrasive, but his addictions are real and they’re not sugar coated. His relationship with Oliver is heartwarming, even though it’s never any different than surrogate father stuff: teach him to fight, teach him to work, etc.
When St. Vincent gets serious, it’s pretty cloying. For some reason, the film withholds a lot of basic information about character identities so that it plays as a surprise when the relationships are revealed. Dude, we all knew who Vincent was visiting in the hospital this whole time. Other dramatic moments revolve around people not being able to reach Vincent for an extended period of time. Certainly anyone with his billing information could find him if he didn’t pick up the phone for a week.
So it’s great to see Bill Murray unapologetically play St. Vincent early in the film, and he nails it when it gets darker later too. McCarthy and Lieberher are good too, and Naomi Watts is adorable as a pregnant Russian hooker. With a heart of gold, you know, as they come. It’s just with movies featuring Murray in a leading role being so few and far between these days, it’s not good enough.