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April 16, 2024

Murray-loving critic takes on St. Vincent

By WILL KIRSCH | September 29, 2016

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PAUL SHERWOOD/CC-by-2.0 Bill Murray stars as the miserable old man Vincent MacKenna in Theodore Melfi’s 2014 film St. Vincent.

Thankfully, here at The News-Letter, we have perfected Minority Report-style preemption and are capable of fulfilling your needs before you are even cognizant of them. Yes, you are indeed welcome. We are the thought police and we know exactly what you are thinking, but in a friendly, non-dystopian way.

This review requires something of a disclaimer regarding the writer’s opinion to the film’s lead actor. I really love Bill Murray. A lot. The man emanates such immaculate and incomprehensible swag on film.

So my approach towards this film was, at first, semi-devotional. Nonetheless, I swallowed an objectivity pill before I began watching Theodore Melfi’s 2014 film St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray, began.

St. Vincent is the story of a cantankerous old man, Vincent MacKenna (Murray), whose precariously balanced misery is disturbed by the arrival of a new pair of neighbors, recently divorced Maggie Bronstein (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).

Vincent becomes something of an accidental and highly begrudging babysitter to Oliver after Maggie is forced to start working late, fostering a semi-healthy relationship between the exceedingly frail child and the gambling-and-alcohol addicted old man.

As the film progresses, Oliver and Vincent grow close, and Oliver begins to gain some insight into the abstract collection of angers that is Vincent. After a health scare, the Bronsteins and Vincent’s pregnant Russian “lady-of-the-night” girlfriend Daka Paramova (Naomi Watts) nurse Vincent back to health and, after some expected drama and redemption, the neighbors and their respective tertiary characters find some semblance of balance and happiness.

Vincent has problems, and by that I do not mean that he is old and crotchety. His wife has been consumed by Alzheimer’s to the extent that she no longer recognizes him. He is in debt, both monetarily and in regards to the number of healthy cells left in his liver. Vincent struggles to maintain care for his wife while he himself is trying to scrape by. Maggie and Oliver, too, have problems, albeit less interesting ones.

A newly divorced mom fighting for custody and a bullied kid are old tropes, but they are a presented with a little less gravity in St. Vincent.

As far as plot goes, St. Vincent is not much to write home about. It’s your basic anti-hero redemption story set in against the backdrop of a stagnant middle class neighborhood.

Side note: The movie is set in Brooklyn, but not the type of Brooklyn that exists anymore.

It’s more the type of Brooklyn that people reminisce about when someone rides past them on a unicycle. In this magical and probably rent-controlled island of old New York that exists at the center of America’s hipster supernova, you can find the usual suspects (that makes two 90s movie references in one article): petty criminals, decrepit bars and the generally oppressed.

The plot of the movie, while cookie-cutter, features a fair amount of well-developed characters who are portrayed superbly. A story that could have easily been dull is made interesting by Murray’s embodiment of the very bizarre and very interesting Vincent.

McCarthy’s well-played manic and high-strung single mom fairs well alongside the often dominating on-screen presence of a star like Murray. In addition, Naomi Watts’s Daka, Vincent’s pay-by-the-hour companion turned girlfriend, makes for a great comic foil while still being a fulfilling character.

Along with the main cast, a few supporting characters are worthy of note. Oliver’s teacher Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd) makes Catholic school funny, a task contemporary humankind previously thought to be unachievable. Oliver’s friend Robert Ocinski (Dario Barosso) does a good job of switching from bully to companion of the leading boy.

Also, Terrence Howard makes an appearance as a loan shark named Zucko. This is kind of weird, because at one point Terrence Howard has a gun — notice how I said the actor’s name and not the character’s name. Not that it really matters because he does not have a significant part, but I can not find you threatening when you always look like you are about to cry, Terrence Howard.

Despite all that stuff I said about the plot and the opportunity I took to mock Brooklyn (the most overrated borough of the most overrated city in the United States), I honestly think this is a good movie. It’s definitely not earth-shattering, remarkable or unique, but it’s solidly entertaining.

The actors and indeed the script do a good job of taking a mundane idea and making something worth watching. Murray is good, which is a tame adjective on my part, and his costars Lieberher, McCarthy and Watts all add their own substance to the film.

Combine that powerful leading four with some compelling supporting characters and you have something palatable. Also, and completely unrelated, this movie should be required viewing because in it, Bill Murray sets the precedent for how you should dress as a septuagenarian: socks and sandals combined with cargo shorts. Take notes, people.

Well, full disclosure, I have run out of things to say about this movie, so I will be offering some relationship advice loosely related to this film. Here the reader should take a brief pause to imagine all my exes laughing condescendingly.

This movie was Theodore Melfi’s first film, which makes it indie to a certain degree. It is far from being a blockbuster. So, if you are pursuing a person who is more trendy than you and perhaps fancies themselves a “movie critic” (cough) watch this movie next time you disappoint them with Netflix and chill.

They will no doubt be moderately impressed by your taste in film and you will probably still enjoy the movie because it has some famous people in it. Throw in the phrase “directorial debut,” and enjoy their adoration of your own personal renaissance. There you go, a little advice to go with the criticism. Like I said before, you are indeed welcome.

Also, if any of you New Yorkers have anything to say regarding my opinions on the “Big Apple,” let me save you some effort: “wkirsch2” at jhu.edu. Get at me. Yankees are horrible, let’s go O’s. Until next time.

Overall Score: 7/10


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