Wednesday, December 31, 2014

St. Vincent

Since his 1988 appearance in the movie Scrooged, Bill Murray has made a career out of being the curmudgeon who is redeemed by the third act through repetition, ghosts, elephants, Scarlett Johannson or whatever. And he just gets better and better at it. Seriously, check out his performance in the daring, yet nigh unwatchable, The Razor's Edge (1984)—which movie he agreed to do Ghostbusters in order to get the green light on, and which basically killed his career—and compare to his work in later films, and it's impressive how good he's gotten.

Later films like St. Vincent, in which Murray plays a crotchety old man who's broke and drunk and a whoremonger (said whore being pregnant Russian-accented Naomi Watts). Our story begins after Vin (Murray) smashes his fence after driving home drunk, with him waking up the next morning to find his property being smashed by the careless movers of his new neighbors. Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is a recent divorcee who works as a technician in a hospital, and often ends up not being able to get home in time to take care of her son Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher).

Vin sees an opportunity to make some cash and offers to sit for the desperate Maggie.

Hilarity, as they say, ensues.

Murray is great. Better than many of his highly praised performances in recent years. He's found the perfect notes between antagonism and despair, and even has some moments of genuine joy. He's got a perfect co-star in Lieberher, too, who's savvy without being obnoxious. Actually, of all the characters, Oliver's the most likable and probably the sanest and most Christian (or perhaps I should say "small-c christian").

For a youngster, he's quite capable of hitting subtle notes.

The supporting crew is good, as you would expect. Chris O'Dowd (Calvary, Thor 2) as the hip-but-not-too-hip Catholic priest is a standout.

For all the familiarity of the story, there are enough twists-and-turns to keep you guessing. Writer/director Theodore Melfi also hits the right notes, by neither making Vin a complete reprobate nor a crusty-but-benign cliché. (Melfi, interestingly, has only directed one prior feature, back in 1999, with Kimberly Quinn—who plays a nurse/administrator in St. Vincent—as the star, and his co-writer.)

Quinn is a producer on this film, as is Don Cheadle!

I really enjoyed this film. I got choked up at the end.

The kids, interestingly, were not as moved. They both enjoyed it, but neither was amazed. (Or, as The Boy might say, "It didn't roxxor my boxxors.")

I put this in the category of films, like Chef and Beyond The Lights, which have formulas but which are really quite hard to do well, and which raise the boundaries of expectations for their genre.

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