November 2, 2014

Movie Review: St. Vincent

So, I have seen St. Vincent. The movie is not quite what I was expecting, but it was still good. It was funny, it was sad, it was melodramatic, it was real, and it tended for mushy sentimentality. The movie covers a lot of ground, but what I think it might be most notable for is for putting Bill Murray front and center on the screen. This is not a supporting role like in Monuments Men or a dramatic biopic like Hyde Park on Hudson. This is a movie that really seems to play to Bill Murray's strengths and where he is in his career now. It may also help people forget Tammy and realize that there is more to Melissa McCarthy.

As the movie begins, we are introduced to the grumpy, uncouth, hard drinking, gambling, vet Vincent MacKenna (Murray) and his new neighbors, Maggie (McCarthy) a newly single mom and her 12-year old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Along the way we also meet Russian immigrant, stripper, prostitute, and very pregnant Daka (Naomi Watts), and a bookie looking to collect from Vincent (Terrance Howard).

If you have seen the trailer, you have a pretty good idea how this movie is going to play out. In terms of telling a fresh tale, it does not do that. There really isn't anything about this movie that we haven't seen before, for better or worse. It is interesting to think about how formula and the familiar is implemented. We often hear the term formulaic used as a negative, but it doesn't have to be. I mean, it became a formula for a reason in the first place, right? It is possible for the formula to be used in the service of a worthwhile tale. In this case the formula is appropriate, it lets the actors step up and carry the story and give it worth.

As the story plays out, Vincent becomes a necessity as Maggie needs a babysitter and the two seem to have made some odd connection. However, things get a little out of hand when Maggie is challenged for custody when it comes to light that Vincent has taken young Oliver to the track, a bar, and has been introduced to a “lady of the night.” By the time all is said and done, we learn both sides of Vincent, Oliver has learned something about life, and everyone is better for it.

I thought an interesting aspect was Oliver talking about what he learned from the seedier aspects of Vincent's life. He was never in any actual danger, just taken places that a generally deemed inappropriate. It brings up the question if kids are being too sheltered, protected from too much, and not being allowed to learn about life. I understand the desire to protect our children from harm, but at the same time I think that may also lead to a developmental stunting. Of course, I probably just have no idea what I am talking about. Still, to watch Oliver learn to defend himself and speak up, come out of his shell, not in a bad way, but in a needed way.

Overall, St. Vincent is a good movie that will make you laugh just as it has you reaching for the tissues. It may be a tad manipulative, and give some parts of the story the shaft (Terrance Howard's bookie has precious little to do), but it remains effective and allows Bill Murray to craft an interesting character. His Vincent is a fascinating creation. He is not always a good guy, but there is a mushy center to his crusty old man, and as it is being revealed no aspect is ever betrayed. This is the best part of the film, the tight rope that must be walked to keep the character sympathetic and present him as a rounded character, guarded, yet open. He is one of the more fully human characters to be seen on the screen in some time.


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