Few actors these days can play themselves on screen and get away with it. To be comfortable in one’s skin while entertaining the masses is a rarity but when it happens, it’s really a beautiful thing. Bill Murray has been a strong example of this for a while now. In fact, much of his career and many of his most notable roles are Bill being Bill. He’s won awards just for playing himself. His latest dramedy St. Vincent continues this trend and the results are actually pretty outstanding. With a great supporting cast, a bittersweet script and an overall offbeat style, this is one of Murray’s best films yet.
St. Vincent is a gritty film with colorful genuine characters. Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is a single mother with a bright yet bullied 12 year-old son, Oliver (a fantastic Jaeden Lieberher). They move to a suburban part of Brooklyn next to Vincent (Bill Murray), a grumpy Vietnam veteran who drinks, has a gambling habit and has a sort of girlfriend in Daka (Naomi Watts), a pregnant Russian “lady of the night”. When Maggie’s job requires her to work late, Vincent is reluctantly called upon to watch Oliver. The two then cultivate a friendship, learning about one another and improving one another’s lives.
Bill Murray is no stranger to playing curmudgeons. In 1998, he gave a similar and slightly more memorable performance as millionaire Herman Blume in Wes Anderson’s brilliant Rushmore. In that film he also played a bit of a jerk but a more refined jerk. In St. Vincent, Murray doesn’t really care about much. He’s vulgar, sloppy and at many points in the film, downright mean. Young Oliver sees past this rough exterior and the two form a very unlikely but tender bond. Their relationship is the film’s core selling point and it is quite endearing.
The rest of the cast is very strong with Melissa McCarthy playing her usual character but a bit more toned down. Naomi Watts tries something new, playing a Russian prostitute. Her accent is actually pretty decent here. Chris O’Dowd offers some quirkiness as Oliver’s unconventional priest/teacher and Terrence Howard shows up to offer some unnecessary conflict as a fellow Vincent owes money to. All in all, this is a terrific cast and one that fully backs up Murray’s character’s craziness. Each actor fully commits to their role and the results are nothing short of spectacular. There is even a very emotional subplot involving Vincent’s wife, who lives in a facility for forgetful individuals (Alzheimer’s, Dementia). The scenes Vincent has with his wife are touching, tragic and downright powerful.
Writer/director Theodore Melfi has painted a really interesting picture with St. Vincent. It is a bittersweet dramedy that features some very powerful performances. Murray will probably be nominated for a few awards and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same happened for young Jaeden Lieberher. St. Vincent is clichéd and very familiar but that doesn’t make it a bad film. It’s actually a very charming film with a message that never gets old. The bitter old man and the wide-eyed youngster who find a common ground, an understanding and mutual respect for one another. Though this type of movie had been done before, it doesn’t mean St. Vincent isn’t noteworthy. St. Vincent has a lot going for it, most notably the two male leads.