Bill Murray returns to a leading role in “St. Vincent,” a film based around a cute story template you’re used to about a young boy who finds a mentor in an old man, albeit his grandpa, neighbor or whoever. Where it veers from the usual theme is in the boy’s, Oliver played by Jaeden Lieberher, class project about researching someone you know who is a living saint.
It’s cute and refreshing, more so at the end of the film than anything else when Oliver is presenting his project in front of a theater of audience at his Catholic school. It’s short enough to enjoy without thinking you’ve devoted too much time to it, but feels like it deserved a little more depth in discussing Vincent’s not-so-secret wife and his neighbor, Maggie played by Melissa McCarthy, who’s losing a custody battle in the midst of a divorce.
Theodore Melfi’s screenplay wants to challenge you to get to know people, but focuses almost exclusively on Vincent, who rubs off as a bitter old man. Even so, it’s a big payoff in the end, if you’ve hung on to hope that he’s a good guy. But Melfi casually ignores the other interesting people in the film — and there are a lot of them. Every Tuesday Vincent sees Daka, a pregnant Russian woman of the night. Naomi Watts’ portrayal is impressively entertaining as she gets more and more scenes as the movie progresses. But she’s one of the examples of a character we’d like to consider. Who’s baby is it? After all, the first time we see her, she’s rocking the old bed on top of Vincent. Generally, knowing more about her would’ve allowed us to invest more in her original character.
Maggie is the other major example. This McCarthy performance isn’t one you’re used to in anything you’ve seen. It’s a more dramatic role for the actress, who plays an emancipated mother taking extra shifts at the hospital and trying to keep custody of her kid. She’s a hardworking mother, which is a good look for her, but it’s disappointing when, all of a sudden, she’s losing the fight for her son.
That son, played by Lieberher, is a cute kid who’s having a hard time fitting in at school and standing up for himself. As the fairy tale goes, Vincent is there to teach him how to fight back, speak with conviction, work for his dollar, and most importantly take care of others.
Melfi, the writer/director, made a choice to avoid diving too deep into backstories, even though it feels like this heart-warming film earned it. “St. Vincent” is a good movie nonetheless.
“St. Vincent”: ★★1/2