St. Vincent (The Weinstein Company, PG-13)

St.-Vincent 75If you’re a Murray fan and need your new fix, St. Vincent will do just fine, but it feels like it’s just biding the time until the next one comes along.



St.-Vincent 500

Like the rest of the right-thinking world, I’m a big fan of Bill Murray. And it helps that he’s done some of his best work in recent memory (Rushmore, Lost in Translation); it isn’t like, say, people who are big fans of Harrison Ford (not that there’s anything wrong with that). All the same, it’s hard to deny that, since his loss of the Best Actor Oscar to Sean Penn in 2004, Murray seems to be retreading past successes instead of breaking new ground. Sure, he’s still doing great work—I’m particularly partial to Broken Flowers—but his taking roles in stuff like Hyde Park on Hudson, The Monuments Men, and Get Low all seem to be of the sort that may have looked like they could have gotten him that elusive (and deserved) Oscar on paper; in practice, however, they are fairly lackluster, or at least all of the components of the movie are apart from Murray himself.

His new film, St. Vincent, is probably the single worst offender in this category. In it, he plays Vincent, a New Yorker who lives alone with his cat, hates everybody, incites everyone to hate him, and is eventually won over by a little moppet who moves in next door. The moppet in question is Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), a nice-mannered kid who is scrawny, bullied, and learning to be self-sufficient as his single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) struggles through a nasty divorce. Because Maggie’s working all the time in hopes of sending Oliver to a nice private school, Vincent falls into taking care of Oliver after school, which is what eventually affords Oliver the opportunity to warm Vin’s heart.

Though I didn’t exaggerate anything in that synopsis for effect, if your disposition is like mine, it probably sounds worse than it is. This isn’t exactly your typical, run-of-the-mill Hollywood tripe, though it’s only a few steps above it. From time to time it is genuinely funny (though I was puzzled by the riotous laughter it evoked in the audience I saw it with; it was never that funny), it even gets close to being legitimately heartwarming on at least one occasion, and the performances are good. Not that this is surprising from Murray, but it’s also McCarthy’s best work since Bridesmaids, Lieberher’s a find, and another Bridesmaids alum, Chris O’Dowd, is two for two with this film in terms of good performances this year (the second in Calvary).

But that brings us back to Murray. Yes, he’s good here, as he basically always is. It’s a showier role than the type he usually takes—he has a New York accent and—spoiler alert—suffers a stroke partway through the movie, which allows him to ham it up more than what you might be used to. But the content of St. Vincent doesn’t compare well to Murray’s bigger hits and near-misses. The whole film essentially plays like the sequence when Royal takes Ari and Uzi out in The Royal Tenenbaums (a movie in which Murray had a role, although he didn’t factor into that scene), and also is somewhat reminiscent of Bad Santa, which Murray was originally attached to star in. That is to say, if you’re a Murray fan and need your new fix, St. Vincent will do just fine. But it feels like it’s just biding the time until the next one comes along, which hopefully will be better and fresher than this film is. | Pete Timmermann

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