St. Vincent

St Vincent busts a move
Bill Murray plays a troubled but compassionate Vietnam Vet in Ted Melfi’s new film VINCENT

It’s not rocket surgery is just one of the delightful malapropisms dropped by Daka, the pregnant prostitute and proxy paramour of the title character in ST. VINCENT, a decidedly feel good film for the festive season.

The roots of the story of ST. VINCENT were inspired by a life-altering moment in writer/director/producer Ted Melfi’s own life. When his older brother passed away seven years ago at the age of thirty-eight, he went to the funeral and realized his eleven year-old niece had nowhere to go. Melfi and his wife quickly decided to adopt her and move her from a small, rural town in Tennessee to where they lived in Sherman Oaks, California.

Once enrolled in Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Melfi’s niece received a homework assignment with the following prompt: Find the Catholic saint that inspires you, and find someone in your real life that mimics the qualities of that saint. She picked St. William of Rochester, who is the Patron Saint of Adopted Children, and selected Melfi as the match.

A much moved Melfi realized that here was the perfect idea for a movie. Instead of characters like himself and his niece though, he wanted to use an old curmudgeonly guy who’d lost his will to live and a young boy.

Pitch perfecting casting has Bill Murray playing Vincent, a Vietnam vet whose anti avuncular veneer is a protective shell against the slings and arrow of outrageous fortune. In the opening scene Murray gives a pissed perfect performance, which is at once both comic and pathetic.

Unsummoned, into his life comes Maggie and her son, Oliver. They have just moved in next door to his crumbling, ramshackle Brooklyn abode, a move necessitated by a bitter domestic separation. Both Maggie and Vincent need to earn money and so a deal is struck, whereby Vincent will babysit Oliver while Maggie goes out to make a crust.

Mr. Miyagi he aint, but Vincent embarks on giving young Oliver a twist of life lessons that is as practical and enriching as they are reckless and inappropriate.

The canonisation of the curmudgeon courts catastrophe when it coasts too close to the shores of sentimentality but such calamity is avoided by the dark comedy of the writing, the deft direction and the heart of the performances.

Jaeden Lieberher shines as Oliver, the bullied, over-protected runt who blossoms under Vincent’s grass roots tutelage.

Marvellous to see Melissa McCarthy eschewing her loud and proud fat chick persona and inhabiting a real character, yet still delivering one of the zinger lines in the movie.

Naomi Watts is sensational as the no bullshit Bratislav, Daka, who comforts and cares for Vincent while simultaneously mashing the English language into hilarious contortions.

Nice work too from Chris O’Dowd as a Catholic cleric with an ecumenical sense of humour and Terence Howard as a fairly benign standover merchant for a local gambling syndicate.

There’s a rough charm to ST. VINCENT, from its honest characterisations to the seldom seen setting of ungentrified Brooklyn. A cinematic blessing for the holiday season.