Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) hits a low point in his life when a weekly loan he has been taking out against his mortgage comes to an end. Retired and owing more than he earns, he takes a small job watching the 12-year-old boy Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) who just moved in next door with his single Mom, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy).
Oliver is a sensitive boy but takes a shine to Vincent despite his grumpy demeanor. He enjoys learning of Vincent’s vices like visiting bars and betting on horses at the racetrack. Yeah, it’s another “mismatched pair who help with each other’s shortcomings and begin to grow” kind of tale, but it is done very well.
I think I can count on one hand the number of characters Bill Murray has played in films. There is the standard Venkman-Murry. His usual deadpan/sarcastic self as seen in films like Ghostbusters, Stripes, Groundhog Day, etc. There is Bob-Murray, who he played in What About Bob? and sort of previewed with his cameo in Little Shop of Horrors. Finally, there is Carl-Murray who had one appearance in CaddyShack.
So, it was nice to see him stretch his acting chops, even if it was only by a little bit. Vincent is more or less the standard Venkman-Murry with a Brooklyn accent, but he has grown more crabby than flippant with age. It reminded me of how Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Turismo felt like a retired Harry Calahan. This is old Peter Venkman if the circumstances were right.
St. Vincent is not a perfect film by any stretch. The story heavily relies on convenience to save its characters from their predicaments. There is a side story with a loan shark played by Cuba Gooding Jr. that goes nowhere after Vincent is hospitalized from a stroke. And it is formulaic as you can get. I could see the beats coming by a few miles before any of the characters do.
The film’s strength is its likable characters. They are given just enough nuance for me to sink my teeth into. For example, Naomi Watts’ plays a Russian “lady of the night” who is very pregnant. At first, you are presented with the superficial side of her relationship with Vincent as he is one of her “regulars”. But when you are shown how their true bond is a friendship that lies beneath the surface, well… now I’m rooting for these two.
St. Vincent reminded me of Green Book in some ways. I suppose I’m really into films where to unlikely people come together. Maybe it is my thing. Or maybe I was swept by the nostalgia of Vincent’s car, an early ’80s Chrysler LeBaron which my college roommates had in the late ’90s…
Overall, St. Vincent’s story is formulaic and convenient, but it felt more like a refresh than a rehash to me. Melissa McCarthy doesn’t overplay her role, and crabby Peter Venkman charmed the pants off of me. I couldn’t stop smiling while watching it. #MarsApproved