Film review: St Vincent - Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher shine
Starring: Bill Murray, Jaeden Lieberher, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts
Director: Theodore Melfi
None of the many Catholic saints named Vincent — including St Vincent de Paul, dubbed the "great apostle of charity", and the patron saint of Lisbon and Valencia, Vincent of Saragossa — are the subject of this feel-good comedy with a heart of gold.
Instead, the film's protagonist is a curmudgeonly old man to whom few people would look as a prime candidate for beatification — and who, in the first few minutes of the movie, is shown stealing from a Chinatown grocer, having sex with a pregnant prostitute (Naomi Watts) and driving while inebriated.
Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) is an ornery Vietnam war veteran gone to seed, whose bank account has a negative balance. He owes money to a loan shark (Terrence Howard) and the expensive nursing home where his Alzheimer's-afflicted wife Sandy (Donna Mitchell) has resided for several years.
Desperate for cash, the unkempt misanthrope sees opportunity knocking when new neighbour Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) needs someone to babysit her pint-sized son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) while she works long shifts at a local hospital.
Although he's far from an ideal choice, a desperate Maggie agrees to give Vincent a go. Cue all manner of antics, from both man and boy, many of them endearing as well as very funny. And even though the audience will see most of them coming, scenes in which the childless fellow teaches the tyke how to do coming-of-age things such as stand up to bullies will warm hearts.
Writer-director-producer Theodore Melfi's script is on the formulaic side, but her first feature film as director has the cast working very well together. Murray's larking about during the end credits may be a tad indulgent, but otherwise, his freewheeling ways are perfect for his part as a spiky guy who turns out to have a soft centre.
Surprisingly, McCarthy plays it serious for the most part and is convincing and sympathetic as a stressed-out single mum who has had her own share of traumas.
Watts hams it up as a "lady of the night" with a thick Russian accent, while Chris O'Dowd has plenty of fun with his role as Oliver's parochial schoolteacher Brother Geraghty.
But it's the 12-year-old Lieberher who threatens to steal the show as the sensitive boy who, early on, realises Vincent is "sorta cool in a grouchy kind of way". His scenes with Murray are the high points of St Vincent, but Lieberher also shines when the main star is nowhere in sight.
St Vincent opens on January 29