Although the prospect of Bill Murray applying his anarchic, wise-ass schtick to the role of a highly inappropriate babysitter may sound like the stuff of riotous comedy, St. Vincent is surprisingly low key.
From the outset it’s clear that Murray’s Vincent is a cantankerous old boozer. He’s pretty much dropped out of society, lives in a tip and keeps everyone at arm’s length. He’s not interested in making nice with his new neighbour Maggie, much less her school kid son Oliver.
Despite his reluctance for company, especially that of children, Vincent sees dollar signs when the opportunity to babysit Oliver arises. A desperate Maggie is forced to work long hours to make ends meet and no other option seems available to her.
And so begins timid little Oliver’s education into the world of bars, hookers and gambling. Despite the familiar rites of passage premise though, Oliver’s character arc isn’t really that dramatic. Sure, he learns to stick up for himself a bit more, but on the whole he merely observes Vincent’s pathetic existence. He’s not that interested in being corrupted, save the odd little flutter down at the track.
There are a few smart one-liners, but the comedy-friendly premise is more often than not played for drama. As such, first time feature director Theodore Melfi lacks the kind of subtlety or flair that would’ve given the film more weight. It’s a pity because he has a first rate cast at his disposal. Murray is very good as the emotionally damaged Vincent, hiding his pain behind a facade of sarcasm and Jaeden Lieberher is also impressive as his young foil, Oliver.
With the exception of Murray, casting is predominantly against type. As the dour, struggling single mother, Melissa McCarthy has the straightest role in the film, while Naomi Watts as the pregnant Russian “lady of the night” is the most colourful.
Often the music cues are on the light and whimsical side, in an attempt to add levity to the seedy environs of Vincent’s down and out world.
Tonally, St. Vincent is a bit of a mixed bag. The end result is neither laugh out loud funny nor especially moving, despite a late in the day grab at sentimentality.
Fans of Murray will no doubt enjoy the chance to see him do what he does well, otherwise this is an underwhelming serio-comedy that doesn’t quite hit the mark on any number of levels.
St Vincent releases nationally on December 26 through Roadshow with weekend advance screenings starting December 12