Why are you going to see St. Vincent? It’s not Melissa McCarthy after this period of over saturation, despite getting a chance to flex her under-utilised dramatic muscles as single mother Maggie. It’s not Naomi Watts playing Daka, the missing Russian stripper cum prostitute on her resume, whose career is being impacted by her bloating pregnant belly. It’s not even the exciting feature debut of youngster Jaeden Lieberher. Writer/director Theodore Melfi has an ace up his sleeve; Bill Murray.
Newly single mother Maggie (McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Liberher) move to a new home in the wake of her husband’s serial infidelity, and she needs to work tirelessly to make ends meet. The long hours force her to turn to cantankerous neighbour Vincent (or ‘Vin’ – Murray) who capitalises on an easy gig for money to gamble, support ladies of the night and to maintain his supply of booze. However, there’s more to Vincent than the walls that he's erected to ensure that he's alone.
St. Vincent’s narrative structure is one that starts as a leisurely drive that ends with a traffic jam. The opening steady pace is perfect while you are getting to know the Vin at the end of his rope. Sleeping with a prostitute with a rotund belly, wandering through the Brooklyn streets with his laundry basket on his head, cheekily lifting apples from a grocer; and finally a frustrating visit to the bank that inspires him to retire to the a bar.
These introductory moments display the craft of Murray’s performance and all the reasons that Melfi was desperate to cast him for this role. The soundtrack hums with incidental music from Vin’s Walkman or the bar’s jukebox belting ‘Somebody to Love’ by Jefferson Airplane. They compliment the highlights of Murray’s performance and Melfi’s apt musical direction. They are interludes of unbridled Murray, dancing or singing along to his tunes is just pitting this amazing performer against the audience. It’s hypnotic, it’s joyous and it will make you listen to Jefferson Airplane on repeat.
Lieberher delivers one of those performances that have you reach for that superlative thesaurus. He’s got a great quiet; he’s not the petulant snot, he’s respectful while inadvertently sponging up his surroundings. Their interplay, with Murray’s using his experience and stature to create space for his young ward allows him to steal the show.
St. Vincent’s a log jam as the beginning events of the film converge and have repercussions. It seems as though all of the potential things that could go wrong, do for all the characters in the end of the film. As a result Melfi has to use multiple montage techniques to navigate through these meaty dramatic issues at break speed to get to the resolution of the story. You’re cheated out of quality time with each of these hefty dramatic moments.
McCarthy's take on Maggie, is to be as flippant with the abandonment of her divorce until the raw emotions burst the dam. It's a really astutely performed kind of desperate. Watts doesn't have a lot of impact with Daka, as working with the accent immediately puts her a second behind the pitch timing of the other performers that she's interacting with. It's her most comedic performance that I can remember and it's an especially difficult task to keep up alongside Murray and McCarthy.
The final emotional crescendo will sneak up on you so watch out. The lump in my throat hit me so hard that I nearly choked.
St. Vincent is heartfelt and loveably crass. While you expect Murray to be magic, it's really his interplay with apprentice Lieberher that scores.
[rating=3] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.