Murray great in likable 'St. Vincent'
It's a bit maudlin. OK, it ends up seriously maudlin.
And it's certainly familiar, a typical story of how two mismatched people end up bringing out the best in one another.
But a deadpan, world-weary Bill Murray sells "St. Vincent" so well you don't care how improbable, derivative or easy the movie is. It's an old-fashioned, breezy, feel-good flick peppered with colorful characters that maintains a nice balance of mild naughtiness and sweet hopefulness, the sort of film you soak up with a smile.
Murray plays Vincent, a broke, drunk Vietnam veteran whose closest friend appears to be a callous pregnant Russian hooker named Daka (Naomi Watts, hilarious). One day, a newly divorced mom named Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) moves in next door to Vincent with her scrawny-but-polite son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).
On his first day of Catholic school, Oliver has all his possessions stolen, so he ends up waiting for his mother to come home from work at Vincent's pig-sty of a house. Vincent, of course, charges Maggie for babysitting and then takes on watching Oliver as a steady gig.
Unbeknownst to Maggie, Vincent is soon taking Oliver to bars, the local race track and introducing the boy to Daka. Vincent drinks his way through most days, Oliver thinks it's all a grand adventure, and Maggie keeps shelling out babysitting money.
Hints of Vincent's past life pop up: He regularly visits a dementia patient in an assisted-living home, doing her laundry. He chases away bullies ridiculing Oliver and then teaches the boy how to fight. And Vincent's money woes become more pressing; the babysitting cash isn't near enough.
Then Maggie finds out her former husband wants custody of Oliver. Eventually, she's taken to court and discovers how Vincent and Oliver have been spending their afternoons, which obviously does not sit well with a judge.
Written and directed by Theodore Melfi, the story is standard stuff — Jason Bateman played the same sort of bad influence/good influence character in March's "Bad Words" — but an assortment of twists and some spirited characters help things along.
Along with Watts — seriously, she should get a supporting actress Oscar nomination out of this — there's Chris O'Dowd as a witty and kindly priest/teacher at Oliver's school, and McCarthy gets to walk a nice line between her comic chops and some nice sincerely dramatic moments.
Of course, the centerpiece is Murray, an actor who never seems to be trying, who just slips his own offbeat persona into characters seamlessly. He's been playing variations on the good-natured troublemaker for decades now, so Vincent isn't much of a stretch, really, more of a comfortable culmination. Still, he's a joy to behold.
The film's climactic scene is more than a bit corny, with Vincent's entire backstory coming in a rush during a school assembly. But it's one of those cinematic moments where you go what-the-heck and buy into it despite the dopiness. "St. Vincent" may not be a great movie, but it is a great lot of fun to watch.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and language
Running time: 103 minutes