Sometimes a movie lets you know up front what kind of film it’s going to be. Some good movies take a little while to get going, while some bad ones start out alright before crumbling under the weight of their own success. St. Vincent lets you know early that it’s a film of minor charms which will be obscured by predictability and questionable accents. It’s the kind of film that wants to blend harsh, unsentimental figures into a sweet and sentimental frame, but with all the subtlety and taste of pouring 6 Sweet & Low packets in a shot of bourbon.
Vincent (Bill Murray) is a retired drunk who lives alone in Brooklyn. His decrepit old house is in danger of being seized by the bank. He spends his days at the track, drinking, or screwing a Russian prostitute, Daka (Naomi Watts). One day Vincent is awoken by a moving truck knocking a branch from a tree onto his car. During this stressful situation, Vincent is acquainted with his new neighbor, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a single mother working to support her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). After a brutal first day of school where his keys and phone are stolen, Oliver spends the day after school with Vincent. Maggie then asks Vincent to watch Oliver after school and they quickly build an unlikely friendship, and, well, it’s rather obvious where it goes from here – stuff takes a turn, stuff gets better, stuff ends.
Making his feature film debut is writer-director Ted Melfi. While he didn’t make an entirely awful movie, he certainly didn’t make a good one. Instead of letting Vincent just be an asshole, the film goes through great lengths to humanize him at every turn. Too many of these moments are conveyed with Vincent and Oliver doing something in slow motion while some bland, generic, uplifting pop-rock plays. This is a film with the emotional core of a Hallmark Card set to the look and sound of a Coca-Cola ad.
Playing Vincent with a unique Brooklyn accent, Bill Murray is easily the best thing about St. Vincent. Later in the film after Vincent has suffered a stroke, Murray plays the struggles and frustrations of relearning how to walk and talk with stark realism (I had a family member suffer a debilitating stroke and Murray’s performance was like a flashback to his long, difficult recovery). Despite Murray’s charms, most of the cast of St. Vincent is wasted. Chris O’Dowd and Terrance Howard have brief roles; Howard is basically a non-entity appearing in 2 scenes while O’Dowd has an amusing first scene and is quickly forgotten about. It’s nice to see Melissa McCarthy in a subdued role and she’s given some good lines, but she’s not given anything more than the single mom template from a screenwriting book for beginners. Jaeden Lieberher is tolerable enough as Oliver, however, his character is written as a child with adult sensibilities, a distracting and annoying tic. Then there’s Naomi Watts. Hoo boy, it’s not pretty. Playing Daka, the pregnant Russian prostitute, Watts employs such an egregiously bad accent it’s painful. Hands down the worst Russian accent since John Travolta in Killing Season.
There are elements of a good movie in St. Vincent yet none of them come together. Like a failed experiment to crossbreed three mediocre movies, it starts out mildly likable, moves into fairly predictable, and stumbles into predictable and unbearable. St. Vincent is the patron saint of wasted potential.