St. Vincent: Same Grumpy Old Story, Different Cast

Vincent (Bill Murray) is down on his luck. With a pregnant Russian stripper girlfriend, a wife who no longer recognizes him, a house that’s falling apart, and a loan shark trying to get him to pay back the money he owes, he’s turned into a grumpy old man with nothing left but cigarettes, booze, and horse races. That is, until single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and precocious son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door and help him find his soft side.

Hmm, how do I describe St. Vincent? Well, have you seen Bad Santa? How about Bad Grandpa? How about Bad Words? How about, oh f*** it, you get the point. Same story, different cast. A disgruntled man with questionable morals bonds with a boy who helps him discover that he might not be terrible after all. Excuse me if I don’t stand and cheer for a movie that continues to reuse the same idea by wrapping it in a different package—though at least St. Vincent had the decency to use a title that wasn’t “Bad Neighbor.” Kudos…kind of.

Don’t get me wrong—the movie had solid moments. Like Melissa McCarthy’s Maggie breaking down while explaining the difficulties of being a single parent (and it didn’t sound like the bad standup routine that other movies somehow evoke). Or when Bill Murray’s Vincent spent time with his demented wife, staring at her in both love and heartbreak. Or any of the scenes where Oliver (played by potential breakout star Jaeden Lieberher) told the grown-ups in his life to get their shit together because they’re, well, grown-ups.

But the whole movie felt contrived—like it was forcing you to feel something rather than letting you discover it yourself. It didn’t help that it uses a tried-and-true formula: 1) Make your main character a dick so the audience hates him, 2) Slowly expose his soft side with a sweet child or animal foil, 3) Tearjerker moment where he reveals how much he cares/how he feels/some emotional reaction.

That “tearjerker moment” was, of course, the movie’s climax. Oliver had to do a report at his Catholic school on someone in his life who’s a saint. Naturally, he picks Vincent (because movie title), who shows up right in time to hear Oliver’s report and see all of the good things he’s done with his life (Cue tears, Mr. Murray). The fact that the audience had to be told Vincent is a good person with an in-movie presentation shouts weak screenwriting. Never mind that we’ve already been shown how much of a good person he is deep down with those scenes of him caring for his wife or spending quality time with Oliver. No, we needed to be beaten over the head with it.

It’s not that I hated this movie. It was a fun yet somewhat depressing ride, and the cast was awesome (Bonus points for Chris O’Dowd, who played Oliver’s sarcastic Catholic school teacher). I just can’t get over how incredibly predictable and formulaic St. Vincent is. I want better for Bill Murray, and you should, too.

Overall, St. Vincent is a copy-cat of all of the bad man/good boy friendship movies you’ve seen over the last five years, and it doesn’t add anything to the discussion of life struggles, how to be a good person, or any of the other serious topics it tries to cover. That being said, it does have a great cast that makes up for its pandering “feels.” Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy (who, for once, isn’t focused on making jokes about her weight) are standouts, but the real star here is newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, who steals the entire movie with his wit, charisma, and ability to keep up with Murray and McCarthy.

St. Vincent: B

For my radio review of St. Vincent on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 23:03 mark).

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