Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"St. Vincent": a short review

"St. Vincent" stars Bill Murray as Vincent MacKenna, a grouchy, down-on-his-luck misanthrope who owes a lot of money to a lot of people, but who still finds the time and the will to help others out. One day, MacKenna backs his car into his own fence, goes inside to fix himself yet another drink, hurts his hand while chipping ice with a hammer, slips on the ice, and knocks himself out cold against some cabinets. He wakes up the next morning to the sound of two Latino movers arguing about the fact that they've just trashed MacKenna's car by knocking a tree branch onto it with their truck, and to make matters worse, the movers are there for MacKenna's new neighbors: a divorced medical technician named Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her runty son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie has to work long hours, and when Oliver meets some bullies at his new private school, losing his keys and wallet and uniform, he ends up having to hang with Vincent, his mean old next-door neighbor. Vincent eventually accepts Oliver as his babysitting charge—for a price, of course—as Maggie has to work long hours at the hospital. Thus begins what the viewer can predict will be a beautiful friendship as poor Oliver is led around to various bars and racetracks, and is taught one very useful nose-breaking move as a way to fight back against his tormentors at school.

For people who hate comic formula, this movie will offer nothing new. You can see the setup and punchline coming a mile away; the very title of the movie gives away the movie's ending, and the script is unabashedly manipulative. But despite all that predictable boilerplate, it's still good to see Murray clowning around like the Irish Catholic imp he is, and the chemistry between him and freshman thesp Lieberher is entertaining and authentic. Melissa McCarthy also proves she has acting chops that go far beyond SNL-style comedy; one scene requires her to tell her heartbreaking single-mother story through tears, even while delivering laugh lines. It takes talent to make people laugh when you're crying, but in that scene, she managed to make me both laugh and cry. In the end, "St. Vincent" isn't a cosmic drama or a divine comedy; it's a movie about the little things. Oliver is given a class project called "Saints Among Us," in which he has to choose a person he knows, some everyday Joe, as his personal saint. I think we all know whom he picks. But the point Oliver makes, in his presentation about sainthood, is the everyday nature of it. That appeals to my Zennish sensibilities, and it humanizes what could have been an otherwise run-of-the-mill, easy-to-anticipate dollop of nothing. It's the actors who rescue "St. Vincent" from mediocrity and make the story accessible to the rest of us.


No comments: