St. Vincent proves to be honest yet unoriginal

By Contributing Writer

Is there anything wrong with overt sentimentality? Many seem to think so these days. The dripping sap in stories of redemption can be sweet or nauseating, and in some cases, it can be both.

In his directorial and screenwriting debut, Theodore Melfi brings “St. Vincent,” a reliable comedy starring Bill Murray as Vincent, a harsh, disorderly old man who finds himself developing an unlikely friendship with a small 12-year-old boy named Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).

Melissa McCarthy plays Oliver’s struggling single mother who moves in next door to Vincent in Brooklyn, New York. She quickly comes to rely on him as an unconventional babysitter.  Reluctant at first, Vincent takes a shine to young Oliver and jumps at the chance to earn 12 bucks an hour watching him.

Vincent jeopardizes his newfound employment by taking Oliver along with him to bars, the racetrack and other age-inappropriate haunts, justifying it as “showing him how the world works.” The two develop a bond rivaling that of Oliver and his mother, who is frequently away working at the hospital as a CAT scan operator.  

The film tries to take the audience on a rollercoaster ride between love and hate for Vince but fails. While we know we’re supposed to disapprove of Vince’s actions, we really can’t. Murray is the most enjoyable and amusing part of the movie and never fools us into believing he is anything but a tough shell with a soft heart. In fact, we end up sympathizing with him as a working class hero whose motto is, “You work, you get paid, you drink.” The more we learn about him, the more understandable his actions become, and the tension fizzles oas a result.

The somewhat tired premise, more creatively explored in “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”and “Little Miss Sunshine,” is redeemed by Murray’s performance. As Oliver, Lieberher grounds the story—the majority of the film is shown through Oliver’s perspective as a reserved but confident kid. Most importantly, Lieberher avoids the sappy cuteness of many child actors. It is risky to feature a child as a main character as it can appear cliche, but Lieberher pulls it off successfully, without question.

It is worth mentioning that while “St. Vincent” shares plot tropes with “Sunshine” and “Aquatic,”it also appears to borrow the indie aesthetics for the general feel. The bright, warm shots are all taken in a quirky manner vaguely reminiscent of Wes Anderson—who wrote and directed “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”— who is known for his distinct visual style and frequent collaborations with Murray. The film’s soundtrack also favors indie-rock/folk artists, including The National and Bob Dylan. “St. Vincent’s” artistic decisions work, but the film is too formulaic to gratify indie audiences who may come expecting something fresh and cutting-edge. Unfortunately for them, this movie comes off as corny and predictable. “St. Vincent” takes the premise of “Uncle Buck” to the next step but not much further.

With plenty of memorable, witty, and even some touching moments spread throughout, “St. Vincent” is well worth the time despite its cheeky indie veneer devoid of actual artistry. The film is uncomplicated, but that does not make it insincere or inauthentic. “St. Vincent” is conscious and unapologetic despite its faults, and for that it almost deserves applause.