Sunday, December 14, 2014

St. Vincent (2014)

Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Runtime: 1hr. 42mins.

St. Vincent is exactly what you expect. It's about an old curmudgeonly neighbor with a number of bad habits, babysitting a young kid whose mother works late, and how the two bond and learn from each other. 

The best scene in the film, by far, was the closing credit sequence, in which Vincent (Bill Murray) sings along to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From The Storm” playing on his walkman, while just spending time hanging out in his backyard, doing whatever it is he does. The film would have been better served by more moments like this, where a character is simply allowed to live in their world.

Instead we’re given a collection of indie movie cliches, and sappy moments meant to tug at heart strings. The mood bounces back and forth between uplifting/feel good and downright depressing. Perhaps a reflection on the roller coaster of life, but it makes for some uneven filmmaking. Worse yet, it’s a little too obvious in these attempts to tug at our emotions, whether it’s the happy scenes of Vincent and Oliver having fun, or any of the numerous “sad” scenes.

The most obvious of which is later in the film, after Oliver’s teacher had assigned his class (Oliver included) to do a presentation in front of the whole school about someone they know who could possibly be considered a modern day saint. Of course it’s all a setup to deliver on the title of the film. Oliver delivers a speech well beyond anything most of us could write at his age telling of how saintly the cranky old man really is. Vincent, of course, accepts the flattery in a moment meant to indicate his icy exterior may be melting. The whole film feels very contrived, but especially this crucial moment.

This dramedy just isn't very funny, nor is it very dramatic. It isn't as though there isn't depth to the characters and their situations, but the filmmakers don't seem interested in delving deeper into any of it.
There is a surprising number of famous faces in the film, but I can't figure out what drew any of them to the project (outside of the prospect of working with Bill Murray). Occasionally you'll have good or even great performances in bad films, that is the case for Murray here. He is great, the film is not. Melissa McCarthy is wasted in a boring role that required nothing from her. You could say the same of Chris O'Dowd and Terrence Howard who have minimal screen time. However the worst part goes to Naomi Watts, who plays an over the top caricature of a pregnant, Russian whore who habitually hangs around Vincent for unknown reasons.

The subject matter of a broken down older man taking in a young kid in need of a father figure is well tread territory in movies. This story particularly reminded me of a fantastic Japanese film (by one of my favorite Japanese directors Takeshi Kitano) called Kikujiro in which an older man with a gambling problem, and a humorous lack of responsibility and respectability, takes in a kid in search of his mother. The two go on a journey to find her, and both the kid and the old man become better off for having spent the time bonding.

Another great film with similar subject matter to St. Vincent is Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, that features none other than Bill Murray playing a broken down old man who befriends the film’s main character, the ambitious young Max Fischer played by Jason Schwartzman.

And finally, one of my favorite films by Peter Bogdanovich: Paper Moon. Set during the great depression, the film is about a con man who forms an unlikely partnership with a young girl, who may or may not be his daughter. 

All of these films are great and well worth your time. St. Vincent, however, is just disappointing. 

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