A fun, moving film: we've seen it all before, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
Light-hearted comedy is the window dressing for St. Vincent, which is really an exploration of loss, loneliness, and love. Switching from outrageously funny to gut-wrenchingly sad, writer and director Ted Melfi’s first feature-length film is moving and thoroughly enjoyable, though marred somewhat by a formulaic story.
In the film, we follow Vincent (Bill Murray) a crotchety, misanthropic old man who is recruited as a babysitter by his new single-mother neighbour, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), for her 12-year-old son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). At first, Vincent is a far from an exemplary babysitter, taking Oliver to the races, to bars, and introducing him to his prostitute girlfriend (Naomi Watts), and it is this section of the film that contains the majority of the comedy. As it progresses however, the jokes are left behind and we get to see Vincent for the sad, lonely soul that he is, before reaching a teary, lump-in-the-throat climax and ultimately sweet ending.
The best part of the film is the acting, with the whole cast working well together and giving strong performances. In particular Bill Murray is superb, easing into his role with confidence and dominating the film with his presence. Special praise must also be given to the young Jaeden Lieberher, whose debut performance displays a surprising level of nuance and maturity. The supporting cast all perform well too, though Chris O’Dowd, who plays Oliver’s catholic schoolteacher Brother Geraghty, is criminally underused, with his brief appearances being the funniest parts of the film.
Melfi delivers a solid, well-written script with everything working as it is supposed to. It is stronger at the beginning of the film, with all of the jokes and gags fitting in and never feeling forced. As the film reaches its end it becomes increasingly sentimental though, and the story gets stale and predictable, losing the humour that it drew you in with at the start. The direction is simplistic, never getting in the way of the story or the actors. This is also the film’s weakness with Melfi’s lack of flair and experimentation, his reticence to really push the boundaries of the genre, being what prevents it from being anything more than a good flick.
We know from the start where the story will go, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to enjoy it. St. Vincent is a good re-treading of familiar ground: it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, but in the end nothing new will have been ventured.
St. Vincent (2014), directed by Ted Melfi, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment Film Distributors, Certificate 12A.