‘St. Vincent’ isn’t really a good movie. I mean, I guess I should probably start with that. It’s one of those movies that dwells in the realm of ‘been there done that better before’, and the predictability of it all can feel extremely lazy, and the ridiculousness of some (most) of the plot could, in the wrong hands, feel horribly mind-numbing, and some of these characters (most) are just so flat out preposterous that it should all crash and burn and quite frankly I should be writing a scathing review and yet, there is something about ‘St. Vincent’ that feels so organically watchable. Like, it’s so wholly enjoyable despite being so wholly awful.
Oh, and Bill Murray is just ON IT.
So, I guess I’m not going to rip this one apart.
The premise for ‘St Vincent’ feels like a weird amalgam of ‘About a Boy’ and ‘As Good as It Gets’ with a mandatory ‘The Notebook’ sub-plot. It’s just awkward and clunky on paper. It shouldn’t work. Add in a pregnant, Russian ‘lady of the night’ and you have a movie that just makes no sense. I mean, none of this makes any sense…AT ALL! A single mother, bitter from her philandering ex-husband, flees the confines of her home to the city where she has to work long hours and her son, who is awkward in his own right, is left to fend for himself. They happen to move next-door to the worst neighbor in the world, a drunken crotchety old man who hates everybody. Their first encounter is a messy one and leaves a bitter taste in both mouths, but as fate would have it, this single mother ends up relying on the jerk next-door to watch her son because she has no one else. He needs to money, so he forces her to pay him, and she obliges because…she’s obviously used to being walked all over.
Let’s take a second to think about this…
A single mother, who’s only encounter with her neighbor was an awful one, where he berated her and called her names and demanded she pay for damage that she didn’t even cause, and who is obviously living in a pretty sorry state, feeding her son sardines out of a can and being very problematic and salty in her conversations with her, is going to…let him babysit her son? She doesn’t even inquire into WHY her son ‘lost his keys and wallet’ (due to a bully harassing him). Like, what (good) mother rationalizes that it’s ‘easier than looking for another sitter’?
Let’s move on. So, this boy, Oliver, spends his days away from school with this mean old man, Vincent. They take a shine to one another, especially once Vincent sees bullies beating Oliver up and he sees a way in which he can help the boy. Their relationship grows, and Oliver becomes very attached to Vincent, viewing him as a father figure, now that his mother is keeping him away from his real father. Things happen, words and actions are interchanged that destroy and then rebuild these relationships, all of which you could see coming from a mile away (once you embrace how dumb the movie’s actual plot is), and then the ending is just so horrible saccharine and just plain awful.
But, I like…kind of loved this?
I feel like this is one long review of bashing how awful the script is, and I mean, how can you not? The character development here is just ridiculous. Maggie (the single mom) is just a terribly written character. Aside from the aforementioned dumb decision, she is kind of a terrible mother. Sure, she’s struggling and she has this awful weight of ‘I’m going to lose my son, I’ve been cheated on, I have to work’ plight, but she never even talks to Oliver about anything, she knows nothing that is ever going on (gallivanting with prostitutes, going to the races, at bars, witnessing a man drinking away his sorrows, gambling) and the way she treats her husband about Oliver despite the fact that Oliver so clearly loves his father is just gross. Brother Geraghty, Oliver’s teacher (and the whole ‘Christian school’ in general) is such a problematic stereotype that feels more mocking than anything else. Daka, the Russian prostitute is just a dumb, dumb character, not because she’s actually dumb but because she’s kind of pointless. It doesn’t help that Naomi Watts is so randomly awkward in the role. WHY?
And yet, the actors here (Watts aside) make this work so much. I kind of hate Melissa McCarthy, but she is on a different level from her usual shtick here. Like, her character is the epitome of senseless and yet she is so believably earnest. She makes you sympathize even though you shouldn’t, and her breakdown scene is heartbreaking. Jaeden Lieberher is such a wonderful find, a beautifully fleshed out child performance that feels so honest; the perfect blend of childlike innocence and ‘maturity beyond his years’.
And then there is Bill Murray. This was such a perfect performance. From the believable accent work to the chipped away demeanor to the way he handled every arc with such subtlety despite his abrasive nature to the way he handled that stroke…all of it was so honest and integral to this movie working. No, the decisions made by everyone here makes little to no sense and yet, with the right convictions from the cast, they don’t detract from the smile on my face through the film.
And yes, I cried at that awful conclusion.
Theodore Melfi should probably be shot for writing such a stupid, stupid script and yet he should probably be honored for finding a way to make it all work. He has, believe it or not, a real subtle hand and so none of the films piled on preposterousness feels overwhelming to the viewer. I’d actually love to see what he’d be able to accomplish with good material.
So, like I said in my opening statement; this is not a good movie, but…it kind of is?
So, grading this is hard. I'm settling on a C, which seems fair for a film that is just so dumb yet so likable.