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ST VINCENT Saint Or Sinner?

 st.-vincent-whysoblu-1

Directed by Theodore Melfi

Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher

Vincent (Bill Murray) may not have life how he likes it, but it is at least how he is used to. Losing at gambling, sleeping with a pregnant Russian prostitute, getting cut off at the local bar, and staggering from the car to his front door have all become routine for the drunken misanthrope. When a new next door neighbour (Melissa McCarthy) moves in, he finds himself babysitting her kid, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Without disrupting his visits to the bar or the track, Vincent and Oliver manage to learn a number of life lessons from each other, but it is a change Vincent is resistant to and riles against.

The easiest way to describe St Vincent is that it is Bad Santa without the suit, but with a shade more emotional depth and nuance. It is that “bad babysitter” plot that plays with our expectations of redemption, never dipping too far into sentimentality, as Vincent will be all too ready to do something that… well… can only be described as pretty shitty. It is a complex balance that writer and director Theodore Melfi manages to nail. What it does do is give some motivations for the character’s action beyond selfishness and self absorption, be that fear, desperation, sorrow or self loathing. In the end Vincent is perhaps not so much redeemed as the audience’s perception of the man shifts. There is good mixed in with the bad, and Oliver’s journey helps us see that.

This is definitely Bill Murray’s piece. If an actor can keep an audience glued to their chairs through the end credit sequence – which is just him watering the garden and singing along to Dylan – then it speaks volumes for his magnetic personality. The character of Vincent has a lot of meat for Murray to sink his teeth into and allows him to explore his range. From sarcastic curmudgeon to genuinely sympathetic, Murray shines both in the comedic aspects and in revealing the vulnerabilities of the character.

He is assisted in this endeavour by an amazing supporting cast. Young actor Jaeden Lieberher manages to stand toe to toe with the comedic giant, producing a remarkably mature performance. Melissa McCarthy is in good form giving a pared back performance, mostly acting as a straight woman to the other larger performances while getting a few choice one liners herself. Chris O’Dowd manages to make the most out of a small role as a Catholic priest combining cynicism, spirituality and comedy into a strangely memorable package. The only sour note comes with Naomi Watts’ Russian prostitute, Dakka, who is more clichéd parody than a believable character.

Charming and occasionally poignant, St Vincent hits it mark. A gently quirky film given more weight by the patron saint of comedy, St Bill.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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