Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a newly single mother, tries to raise her eleven-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) in a new neighbourhood, however her job as a CAT Scan technician means she often has to work late. Reluctantly, she turns to her neighbour for help, Vince MacKenna (Bill Murray), a down-at-heel veteran of the Vietnam War. Vince agrees to become the baby sitter strictly for the money and not out of the goodness of his heart.
Unbeknownst to Maggie, Vincent’s new responsibility does not, in any way, curb his favourite activities, such as visiting a local dive bar, strip club or the racetrack. Now he simply brings Oliver along on his errands and diversions. Along the way, Oliver meets Vincent’s friend Daka, a pushy Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts).
This mix of elements works surprisingly well for most of the length of the movie. Murray has the WC Fields-esque misanthropy down pat. It’s a more intense variant of a character he has often played, the selfish man who has to learn to care. Murray fans will not be disappointed by this tweaking of the formula they love. Melissa McCarthy, who has developed a gallery of prat-falling, foul-mouthed rogues in her last few roles, takes a back seat in comedic terms. The character of Maggie is believable and more grounded than Vincent’s. She is beset with real problems, a new job, a divorce and having to pay for her son’s education. Jaeden Lieberher is a delight as the put-upon Oliver. His performance is a winning one. You want him to succeed against the obstacles stacked against him, yet he does not come across as overly cute. Naomi Watts is cast against type for this one. She has dropped her signature middle-class niceness and taken on a brawling, Eastern European persona that sails pretty close to parody, but is hilariously inappropriate.
First time writer director Theodore Melfi, has a decent stab at creating an out-of-kilter world for Vincent and Oliver to play in. Murray and Lieberher work together beautifully and we want to see their relationship develop. Oliver’s father is absent and McKenna has things to teach the boy. Even if those lessons seem to take place solely on Vincent’s terms. The scenes at the track, the bar and the strip club all work fine. It’s where the film veers into sentimentality, that I would like to have seen more self-discipline and toughness on Melfi’s part.
ST VINCENT is a crowd-pleasing dramedy that isn’t ashamed to wear its heart on its sleeve. It runs for 102 minutes. I rated it a 6/10.
Perth viewers will be able to catch advance screenings of ST VINCENT at the Luna Cinemas (Leederville and Luna on SX) today, Sunday 21st December. The Australian season proper opens on Boxing Day, December 25th.