St. Vincent (2014)

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“Who pissed in your Cheerios?”

What an insanely likable and faulty movie this is. St. Vincent dishes out the humor but never makes it a buffet of comedy, missing too many early opportunities for laughs. And then it piles on the twee sentimentality almost to the point that it’s cloying and insincere. We’re forced to laugh. We’re forced to cry. The film is so emotionally manipulative. Oddly enough, despite the obvious coercion, I enjoyed the movie. I still laughed. I still welled up. St. Vincent gets a lot wrong but does just enough right to win us over.

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Vincent (Bill Murray) is not a saintly man in most regards. He constantly has booze flowing, is completely broke, and gambles at the racetracks to try and make some money. On Tuesdays he pays what cash he has to the pregnant stripper / hooker Daka (Naomi Watts). It’s clear the he’s had his fair share of misfortunes, unable to find a little lady luck in his life. The curmudgeon is a graffiti artist constantly defacing his own life with self-imposed problems. Vincent is a surly sinner surrounded by saints.

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Pressed for cash, he finds a way to make a couple bucks by babysitting for the new next door neighbors. Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is CAT Scan Technician recently separated from her adulterer of a husband. Her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), attends a private Catholic school even though he thinks that he’s Jewish. Oliver is small and smart, easy pickins for the grade school bullies. Maggie’s job requires a lot of time and Vincent offers to watch the kid after school for exactly $11 an hour. Up until this point the movie is unforgivably slow, but it takes a turn for the better once Vincent takes Oliver under his damaged, soon to be stinted wings.

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The performances are what drive St. Vincent. Watts provides some laughs as a “lady of the night” and Chris O’Dowd brings his signature wry humor to Oliver’s teacher Brother Geraghty. As Oliver, newcomer Lieberher really holds his ground while sharing the screen with an acting legend. It’s a very promising debut for what looks to be a great talent. I have never liked Melissa McCarthy in a single thing she’s done. Her typecast is a rambling, obnoxious, and one-dimensional laugh generator that to me isn’t all that funny. But she’s fantastic here, and one scene where she balances real tears while adding in a couple hilarious lines proves the ability she has. And Murray, well, he’s as good as ever. It’s amazing what presence he still has a sixty-something, balding, overweight man. You can’t help but watch his every movement. A Golden Globe nomination is sure to come his way in January.

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Sometimes good movies like this get in their own way of being great by trying to do too much. Sprinkled throughout are terrible storylines involving Oliver’s redeemed cheating father, his phony friendship with the class bully, and Vincent’s troubles with a gun-toting bookie. And there’s little rhyme or reason to the cuts between scenes. We eventually get where we’re supposed to go but take sharp turns and pointless detours to get there. St. Vincent never takes off the training wheels and trusts its audience to find the laughter and emotion where they should. Instead, it mines for them, hitting our hearts and our heads with a pickaxe until our surface breaks. I really wanted to give this a better rating, and I’d still recommend it to anyone. You know those people that try so hard to get another person to like them that they just end up being ignored and shunned? That’s St. Vincent. It’s outpouring of love, while enjoyable, goes unrequited.

“A saint is a human being we celebrate for the sacrifices they make, for their commitment to making the world a better place.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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