Release date: 5 December 2014
Running time: 102 min
Director: Theodore Melfi
Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Jaeden Lieberher, Terrence Howard
Known and loved primarily for his idiosyncratic brand of off-beat comedy, Bill Murray’s output in recent years hasn’t exactly been his finest. Aside from popping up in a Wes Anderson flick once every couple of years, he seems to spend the rest of his days playing golf and surprising unsuspecting members of the public in increasingly bizarre and glorious ways. He quite clearly just isn’t bothered which, to be fair, is where so much of his appeal lies. On paper, St. Vincent is a fitting movie for this stage in his career. Playing a cantankerous, mean-spirited old man who begrudgingly takes a young boy under his wing, this is basically Murray’s Gran Torino. Only less funny. Probably.
On the surface, St. Vincent seems to buck the current mean-spirited comedy trend, and quite clearly owes a lot to the exasperating likes of Seth Macfarlane. Dodgy jokes at the expense of an immigrant, pregnant prostitute set the tone early on, although thankfully this is the lowest it gets. This is a 12A after all, but granted it is one of the more borderline offerings in recent memory. As such it struggles to find its way as a comedy; at times too depressing, or simply too obvious for proper laughs.
Thankfully it succeeds in other areas, becoming surprisingly touching in some of its quieter moments. Melissa McCarthy shines in an unusually subdued role as single mother Maggie, who is struggling to cope with mounting pressures both at work and at home. Jaeden Lieberher also impresses as the sweet young boy who takes a shine towards the grumpy old bloke next door, although the material makes him a little too precocious. Chris O’Dowd and Terrence Howard also appear a couple of times, although barely make an impression amongst the myriad of wasted supporting talent.
This is the Bill Murray show though and it is, in some ways, Bill Murray-by-the-numbers. He has always had an affecting way of infusing comedy with the melancholic, and he does so here with little effort. However there is something distinctly lacking here too. Perhaps he is slightly too distant, a little bit too mean and obnoxious; his previous roles have always been relatable, acting as a kind of avatar for the audience. Even when he is on top bastard form – whether as Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters or Frank Cross in Scrooged– you’ve always cheered him on. And despite the occasional flash of that irresistible Murray charm, something here doesn’t quite sit right.
As for the film itself, its not sure what it wants to be. Is this an adult comedy? An inspirational story? An indie drama? The script is tonally jarring, culminating in a finale that is so laboriously signposted that it’ll likely elicit a groan rather than the intended bittersweet sigh it so badly wants from you. There’s still a lot to enjoy in St. Vincent; no-one does the ‘give a fuck’, unencumbered old bastard quite like Murray. It’s just a shame it wasn’t something more.