It’s been a good while since I’ve both laughed and cried at a movie. But somehow, some way, St. Vincent did produce that effect. Bill Murray has not played any good comedic roles in many moons, but he really sinks his teeth into this one. Mind you, this is far from a perfect movie, and Vincent McKinley, Vietnam vet and erstwhile gambler, is far from a perfect person. But Bill Murray knows exactly how to play him, and for an hour and 43 minutes one is totally taken in by this grumpy old man, who secretly has a really good heart.
If you are old enough to remember the TV and Broadway show The Odd Couple, Murray in this film resembles another famous grouch, namely Oscar in that show, only a bit more edgy. Vincent has issues, indeed quite a few of them. For one thing his wife Sandy is in a home for those with Alzheimer’s and she thinks Vincent is her doctor, not her husband. For another thing, he is yet another rather abandoned Vietnam Vet who had won a Bronze Star in the war and was promptly forgotten, because America did not want to remember yet another war we lost, and it seldom honored its veterans. It still doesn’t. Vincent is simply wasting away in Brooklyn visiting his favorite bar, race track, and a favorite strip club (which produces his relationship with Dacha a ‘lady of the night’ played impressively by Naomi Watts), and very religiously visiting his wife whom he still loves.
Enter the new neighbor played by one of my least favorite actresses Melissa McCarthy….who plays it straight and is actually excellent in this film. She’s not obnoxious, not rude, but rather a vulnerable divorced woman trying to raise her adopted son Oliver. Who knew she could do this? And the kid is excellent as well, as is his Irish Catholic school teacher played by Chris O’Dowd.
The film focuses on the growing relationship between McKinley and the young man Oliver for whom McKinley becomes a truly unlikely babysitter, as Mom works long hours in the hospital trying to keep body and soul together. The film basically chronicles the aforementioned relationship and the growing ‘street smarts’ Oliver gains in the process, ending with Oliver nominating Vincent to be a saint in his school report. Along the way Murray gets to do physical comedy, wry wit, and laugh out loud humor as well. For instance the movie begins with his telling a joke about an Irish man looking for odd jobs whose neighbor tells him he can paint her porch for him, only he misunderstands what she said. Not much later he comes back saying “Well it’s all done darlin’so you can pay up now, but I hate to tell you that’s not a Porsche in your driveway, its a BMW.”
If you need a good laugh or cry, you could do worse than going to see a flawed movie about a flawed saint based on the not so flawed theory that human redemption is possible. You might even learn how to love your neighbor as yourself a bit better too!