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Review: St. Vincent

October 13, 2014

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

St. Vincent Poster

“A saint is a human being we celebrate for the sacrifices that they make, for their commitment to making the world a better place,” Father Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd) tells his Catholic school class in the wonderful dramedy St. Vincent.

And this definition of a saint not only provides inspiration for the name of the film, but also justifies why the unlikely title character deserves to be elevated to that status.  After premiering at TIFF, St. Vincent opens this week in limited release.

After moving to a new neighbourhood with his single mother Maggie (Meilssa McCarthy), preteen Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) finds an unlikely mentor and friend in Vincent (Bill Murray), the ornery older man who lives next door.  Vincent is a depressed Vietnam war veteran who spends his days drinking, making bets at the racetrack, and sleeping with pregnant stripper Daka (Naomi Watts), but there is also a genuinely caring side to him that Oliver starts to uncover.

Maggie needs someone to watch Oliver after school, and Vincent needs money, so he agrees to babysit.  Vincent is the kind of man who takes a kid gambling and to hang out at the bar, while finding ways to justify these activities as important life lessons.  Oliver is the sort of likeable kid who sees the best in everybody, and gives Vincent a chance even when others have gotten fed up with him.  Vincent becomes an odd sort of confidante to Oliver, teaching him how to stand up for himself against bullies, and watching their unlikely friendship develop is one of the many joys that the film offers.

Director Theodore Melfi nails the perfect tone in the entertaining and touching St. Vincent, moving seamlessly between comedy and drama, with a unique cast of characters that we really come to love as more layers of depth are revealed throughout the film.  There are a lot of comedic moments throughout, but the nicely written screenplay also takes some genuinely moving dramatic turns, and it’s hard not to get choked up during a climactic scene that justifies the title character’s nomination for sainthood.

This is his first leading role since the quietly revelatory Broken Flowers in 2005, and Bill Murray is in top form in St. Vincent, offering plenty of expectedly quotable lines, but also stealing our hearts as the poignant backstory of his character is slowly revealed.  As he has proven so many times over the years, including with his Oscar-nominated performance in the modern classic Lost in Translation, the actor has a genuine gift for playing characters who hide their depression through sardonic wit.

Bill Murray has an incredible screen presence, and so much of this character is brought to life through his small mannerisms, like the way that he moves about his yard while mumbling along to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” during an oddly mesmerizing sequence.  Filled with so many great moments like this, St. Vincent is a perfect showcase for his comedic talents and genuine dramatic ability, and his performance is matched by some wonderful work from newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, who easily holds his own alongside the now legendary actor.

Melissa McCarthy is quite affecting in her first dramatic role, providing laughs with her sharp delivery of the lines, but also delivering many genuinely touching moments.  A heartrending scene where she breaks down talking about how hard she works trying to provide the best life for her son, is a career highlight for the actress.  Naomi Watts shines in perhaps her best and most scene stealing supporting work since I Heart Huckabees ten years ago, and Chris O’Dowd also gets some nice moments.

I laughed out loud during St. Vincent, but I also teared up during several scenes, which in my opinion makes for one of the best kinds of movies.  This is a warm film that is just edgy enough to get away with being so bighearted, a feel good film that leaves us feeling better about the world, celebrating the people who dedicate their lives to helping others and making the planet a better place.  It’s also a celebration of Bill Murray, who has done all of these things over the years, and that’s reason enough to see St. Vincent.

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