Vincent MacKenna is the combustible cinematic fusion of every lovable slob Bill Murray has played over the past four decades.
Aged 60-plus years in life’s whiskey barrel, his latest film character has been fermented with bad breaks and hard living, ultimately reduced to the type of hopeless but helpless deadbeat you couldn’t stand to look at more than five seconds in real life, but also the intriguing human track wreck you can’t peel your eyes from while he’s self-destructing upon the big screen.
On the surface, there’s nothing we like let alone admire about this horrible man who lives alone in a lower-middle class neighborhood of Brooklyn, except for a pampered pet cat named Felix, who receives constant royal treatment. Vincent is repulsive. He’s loathsome. He hates people, and everyone hates him back.
He’s rude. He’s classless. He commits petty thefts. He frequently drinks to excess. He curses. He chain smokes. He gambles money he doesn’t have. He goes off to strip clubs. He regularly uses the services of a hooker. He doesn’t have a job nor any means of support. He owes money all over town. And, he appears to have not showed in months. All that’s missing are lines of cocaine, and Vincent would probably be doing that too, if he could afford it. Other than those shortcomings, he’s a real catch.
Desperate for money, Vincent agrees to watch a young boy after school who just moved into the house next door with his single mother, who is in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody dispute. Oliver, the undersized boy suddenly lacking a father figure, is played by to perfection by newcomer to the screen, Jaeden Lieberher. Just as solid in her role is stand-up comedian/actor Melissa McCarthy, this time in a far more serious role playing the sympathetic mother, who is every bit the equal of Murray when she’s onscreen. That’s no small feat to pull off, since this is Murray’s vehicle from start to finish, and he’s clearly in the driver’s seat. Murray’s performance seems a lock for a “Best Actor” nomination at next year’s Oscars.
Street-smart Vincent tutors Oliver on life’s practical necessities — like learning how to fistfight, making various types of exotic wagers at the racetrack, how to sit at a bar and order a straight bourbon, and let’s just say “other” hedonistic pursuits. Naturally, Vincent’s aloof attitude and self-centeredness combined with his scandalous personal habits become the movie’s focal point, pitting the weirdest babysitter in human history against everyone else in the film — from the mother to his bookie.
But along the way, we discover some things about Vincent we didn’t expect. Moreover, as this odd couple begin spending more time together — Vincent the moocher and Oliver the Catholic schoolboy — an emotional bond forms. Vincent teaches Oliver a few things. But in turn it’s really Vincent who needs this relationship more.
Written and directed by Theodore Melfi, everyone in the audience sees where “St. Vincent” is headed. It’s obvious about midway through the film. What starts off as a curmudgeon-centered comedy gradually evolves into a far more serious movie that’s heartwarming, and even emotionally stirring, at times. Some minor credibility lapses and predictability can be forgiven however, since the performances by everyone are so strong. We end up rooting for each character, who has very different needs, in their own way.
Without giving away too much of the plot or ending, when the credits roll at the conclusion of the film, Murray is seen sitting outside alone in his back yard, singing badly off-key to Bob Dylan’s acoustical classic “Shelter From the Storm.”
There’s a certain poignancy to this final moment. Watching Murray as Vincent light up yet another smoke, watering a dead plant starved from neglect becomes oddly mesmerizing. Dead plants need love, too. And there’s no deader soul in this movie than St. Vincent. Oblivious to anything that goes on outside of his chain-link fence, the closing scene seals our affection because it reveals something we don’t expect to find in a man so horribly flawed.
That revelation is contentment and inner peace.
RATING: 4 stars out of 5