About two-thirds of the way through St. Vincent, Bill Murray stopped coasting off his natural charm and started actually acting and when this happened a few things became evident pretty quickly:
One – Bill Murray hasn’t really acted since maybe the end of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Two – Nobody else in the film was really acting to any considerable degree.
And Three – Murray putting in any degree of effort was doing absolutely nothing to elevate the picture. It’s only when St. Vincent tries to be heavy that it’s clear just how light it really is.
Starring as Vincent MacKenna, Murray is in prime grouch mode as a second generation Irish drunk who, in desperate need of cash for an assortment of reasons, agrees to babysit 12 year old Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) after he and his overworked nurse mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), move in next door. As they spend time together Vincent introduces Oliver to horse-racing, seedy bars and the art of self-defence in a fashion bordering outright child abuse and from which Oliver takes only heartwarming lessons of how to be a good person, or even a Saint.
It is absolute schmaltzy crap.
Ostensibly focusing on an edgy and off the cuff older character is certainly not a new concept but St. Vincent adds nothing to the trope and frankly detracts from it by presenting Vincent as being so utterly unpleasant but consistently drawing people into his lives. Characters frequently express how little they like or care for Vin but they never actually follow up on this by avoiding him – or in the case of Maggie – stopping the angry old misanthrope from looking after her young child. An insultingly stereotypical Russian stripper-cum-prostitute (played with all the subtlety of a slap in the face by Naomi Watts) alternately treats Vincent with contempt or warmth depending on what the script requires to keep moving forward and the lessons gleaned are all introduced with such unearned ham-fisted earnestness that none of it is in any way believable.
That the stars are so effortlessly watchable is about the only saving grace for St. Vincent as, apart from Bill Murray’s later transformation, none of them appear to care enough to actually try and do much more than say the lines that are on the page. Undercooked secondary plots about Vincent’s gambling debts and Alzheimer’s riddled wife never manage to stir any heartstrings or provide any palpable tension and although there are a handful of mildly amusing lines, anybody who has seen the marketing for St. Vincent has already seen these gags.
St. Vincent is not the worst film in the world but it’s certainly one of the most lacking in Murray’s career and stands as an unfortunate second misfire this year for McCarthy. Its not offensively bad as much as it is so unremarkable that, like most patron Saints in this day and age, it’s unlikely that many will find much to remember about St. Vincent.
It’s not that St.Vincent is not funny, or not heart warming or even not engaging, it’s that it is not much of anything that is it’s real problem.
St. Vincent is out now in cinemas everywhere.