Friday, October 24, 2014

Bill Murray is #1 reason to see ‘St. Vincent’

By Steve Crum
St. Vincent is owned by its star, Bill Murray, from start to finish and extending into the closing crawl. (The latter is referenced later in this piece.) Without him, the seriocomedy would lose its crux. Murray’s delivery and deadpan demeanor ignite director Theodore Melfi’s screenplay and thus the entire film. It is a delightful occasion when Murray appears in any movie, but a starring role like his Vincent MacKenna character here is extremely satisfying. 
There is a flip side to my Murray gushing, in that the screenplay is very familiar. One needs only to reference 2008’s Gran Torino, and hone in on Clint Eastwood’s central character, Walt Kowalski. Walt and Vincent are grumpy, antisocial bachelors who cuss and drink too much. Both are war veterans—Korea for Walt, Vietnam for Vincent. 
Both movies involve a codger reluctantly befriending a boy neighbor, and eventually becoming a surrogate father figure. (This development is telegraphed in the St. Vincent trailer.) A similar plot dates back to 1934’s Little Miss Marker, based on a Damon Runyon story. In that movie, a crusty criminal (played by Adolphe Menjou) is paired with a moppet played by Shirley Temple. 
It was remade as Sorrowful Jones, a 1949 Bob Hope flick. In 1980, the title reverted to Little Miss Marker, starring Walter Matthau as the rascally guy who befriends a youngster. Over the years, each star has put his own spin on the lead character. Bill Murray follows suit, and greatly succeeds. 
In St. Vincent (explaining the title would be a spoiler), Murray’s Vincent is about as unfriendly as one can get. He has a stripper girlfriend, Daka, played with sleazy aplomb by Naomi Watts. She is more so a lady of the night because he has to pay her for sex. Outside of trips to the horserace track, Vincent rarely crosses paths with fellow humans, preferring to hole up in his cluttered house and drink to unconsciousness. When his new neighbors immediately impose on him by via tree damage, Vincent is livid. 
Enter Melissa McCarthy, toned down to nearly non-comedic, a recently divorced single parent of middle schooler Oliver (terrifically played by Jaeden Lieberher). Her new job keeps her late the first day. That and Oliver being bullied at his new school play out with the boy having to knock on Vincent’s door for help. Ah, the not so beautiful start of a relationship encompassing humor and heartbreak. 
There are complexities to the plot involving a nursing home, pregnancy, the bank, and Catholicism. OK, so maybe it is not that much like Little Miss Marker after all. For sure those other movies lack Bill Murray. 

Despite an extremely trite and sappy conclusion, St. Vincent works.
Be sure to stick around for the unique credit crawl. It features Murray’s Vincent in a non-verbal bit which is better seen than described.

GRADE from A to F: B+ 

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