Instant gratification comes from drinking, hookers and gambling, and from telling people foolish enough to attempt human contact that they needn’t bother in the bluntest terms possible.
It is a fleeting and mostly depressing existence, but being a curmudgeon is an existence.
When the arrival of new neighbours brings unavoidable interaction, Vin doesn’t attempt to hide his disgust for single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her skinny son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), even though both are exceedingly polite and respectful despite his rudeness.
When days later, in desperation, Maggie asks Vin to watch over Oliver for a few hours as she works a late shift, he first negotiates a babysitting rate, then instantly laments the imposition. When someone asks him the boy’s name he replies “$11 an hour”.
For days this continues, Oliver attends the local Catholic school by day, and upon school finishing Vin teaches him his version of life lessons, by showing him all of the past times and vices that ensure he remains broke. It is during these days that Oliver must accompany Vin to places beside the racetrack and bar. They visit the local aged care facility where Vin’s wife resides. They deal with the heavily pregnant Daka (Naomi Watts), a Russian hooker with whom Vin has an abrasive but caring relationship with (when the baby is due he yells out “what colour is it?”).
But teaching and living a path of self destruction is never a long term course.
St. Vincent manages to pull at the heartstrings on more than a few occasions, while the methods are subtle and the outcomes genuine, you can see most of the tricks coming a mile off. But damn it if it doesn’t all work during Oliver’s final speech.
Most of this is credit to the cast, Bill Murray is made for the stand offish disdainful Vin, all dry quips and empty looks that mean so much. Melissa McCarthy – my current comedic hate – excels here as the overworked single mum constantly struggling to stay afloat. (I think she is a far better actress than settling for jokes at the expense of her girth.) Naomi Watts is almost unrecognisable for some time as Daka, I’m not sure if they deliberately kept her in the background or if I just missed it, but once she earns a close up and you realise it is her, you appreciate her skill all the more. The constant sparring with Vin is a highlight. And newcomer Jaeden may never have another film, but he proves here that acting like a ‘kid’ doesn’t require a fast talking, spunky, wise beyond the years joke machine. Oliver is polite, responsible and respectful, smart but not smug, quick but not obviously scripted.
Bill Murray provides all the colour, young Oliver is the pure page on which the art appears. He could have tried to steal the film, instead the subtle performance underpins it.
St. Vincent is by no means great, but it is another sensitive and savvy character study that shows yet again good films don’t need big budgets or tricky hooks to generate warmth and joy.
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. A great Bill Murray performance, not a Great Bill Murray film. (But a very good one.)