St. Vincent review

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before. Bill Murray plays a curmudgeonly old guy who drinks and smokes too much, and is generally considered to be a pretty unpleasant kind of guy. But a young boy and his recently divorced mother move in next door, and through a series of funny but also sad episodes, Vincent goes through something of a redemptive process. Thanks to the boy realising the kind of guy Vincent really is, lives are changed forever.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? This time Murray is playing a guy called Vincent, Jaeden Lieberher is the boy, Oliver, and Melissa McCarthy is Oliver’s mother.

Fitting into accepted genre tropes and following a well trodden route doesn’t inherently bring issues to a film – after all, how original you think any movie is will be dependent on which ones you’v e seen before – but when familiar material has been treated in such a mechanical way, I found it hard not to wonder what writer-director Theodore Melfi‘s driving force was.

Oliver and his mother have moved house after a difficult divorce, and so that Oliver can attend a nearby Catholic school. Here he’s taught by a priest (Chris O’Dowd) who seems to be rather keen on working out his stand-up material. There, Oliver is bullied, for plot reasons, and finds it hard to make friends with anyone.

Of course, this is until he befriends the crotchety Vincent, who babysits him because his mother is really desperate. Once we get to Oliver and Vincent hanging out, the film is watchable stuff, and occasionally amusing and even a little sad. There’s a sequence in which Vincent gets drunk and angry which provides a rare moment of real emotion, but ultimately, things never come to mean anything satisfying.

In some scenes, Vincent takes Oliver along on visits to his wife in a nursing home. She has long since forgotten her own husband, who dresses up as a doctor to prevent her being confused. He’s tender to her, and washes her clothes every week, even though the home will happily do them. None of this does a great deal for the plot, being there solely to provide warmth to the character of Vincent, who could otherwise easily have come across like a monster. But because these sequences were so obviously calculated for this effect, the feel painfully forced. it would be little better if an intertitle appeared and told you that this is the bit where you’re supposed to realise Vincent isn’t all bad, maybe go ‘Awww’.

St. Vincent drives the middle of the road so intently it seems to bore right into it, creating gaping chasm where anything like simple human truth, let alone profundity, appears to have vanished. Bit the film does have one very powerful weapon, in the shape of Bill Murray.

Murray is still one of America’s finest comic actors, and is master of finding pathos in even the most thinly drawn characters. Here, he occasionally falls back on some familiar schtick, but his performance is still alive with warmth, humour, wit and sadness. He steals every single scene he’s in, though that is often like him taking candy from a baby.

As the credits roll, Vincent walks out onto his porch. He lights up a cigarette, sings along to Bob Dylan’s Shelter From the Storm and then absent-mindedly sprays his lawn, and his feet, with a hose pipe. You can watch part of this sequence embedded below It’s one of those quintessentially Murray moments that you can’t quite imagine any other actor managing, and it would be hard to convince me it wasn’t mostly improvised.

While this film is little more than an inconsequential blip, it’s always a pleasure to watch Murray on screen, even when he doesn’t have a great deal to do.

St. Vincent is in UK cinemas now.