Self aware and a little bit too quirky was my first reaction to Theodore Melfi’s new comedy St. Vincent, starring comedy legend Bill Murray. And over the past few days, as I let my bias subside I can’t help but still feel the same way with the comedy that tried to touch my heart, and yet left a sour taste in my mouth. The film, which was borderline bad had full potential to become Bill Murray’s best performance (in a role that’s tailor made for him and looks great on paper) was a crass, stuffed and over sentimental little film that just fell flat and unmemorable.
The fantastic actors casted in roles that could have been great was surrounded by weak writing and even weaker direction, leaving the film to become a large pile of boring imagery and dialogue that seems forced. With people like Bill Murray, Naomi Watts and Terrence Howard on board you’d expect things to go smoothly. But when Melissa McCarthy (who has stricken away all her comedic vanity into a heartfelt performance) outshines such wonderful talents with a strong presence, there really is something wrong. Not to belittle Ms. McCarthy’s talents because I’ve always thought she was a wonderful performer, but those three silver screen heavyweights have proved themselves big time before but here they become caricatures that kept my cringing with every line reading they delivered.
Murray plays Vincent, a grumpy old man with a remarkable past but has failed to see a bright future because of bad vices and the deterioration of his sick wife. When his new neighbours move in, the hardworking, single mother Maggie (McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), Vincent finds himself as the family’s makeshift babysitter to try and earn some extra bucks. Cue the predictability, because Vincent and Oliver find themselves to be the unexpected odd couple of friends as Vincent shows Oliver what it means to be a man, and Oliver shows the pessimistic Vincent the greater parts of life.
Scoop it all together with a terrible supporting performance by Naomi Watts as Vincent’s loud mouthed go-to prostitute, or as the movie likes to say “lady of the night”, and a nothing performance by Terrence Howard as Vincent’s bookie, and we’ve got a real comedic classic. Sense my sarcasm yet?
The film is messy and way to quirky for its own good. As someone who has seen a lot of movies, the quirkiness factor is very hard to pull off. There’s only one man who can hit it out of the park every time and that’s Wes Anderson. It’s because he pushed the genre to new heights and almost surrealism that the style works well for the worlds he creates. St. Vincent’s quirkiness is just a collection of bad writing and direction that is so confused on what it wants to achieve that we are left with a cold and distant “dramady” that became a snoozefest almost half an hour in.
It is true however that people will feel the sentimentality for Bill Murray as a brilliant character actor. And though I love to see him in films just as much as the next guy, I don’t want to lie to myself and say that I enjoyed his performance as Vincent, the asshole. The character had no redeeming qualities and it’s basically a rehashed performance of his groundbreaking work in Groundhog Day (1993). But think of role in Groundhog as if he never learned his lesson as the stubborn and arrogant newscaster, and just decided to go on living as a mean, bitter old man. That is what St. Vincent is. The rest of the ensemble cast was terrible, except Melissa McCarthy, who actually had some screen presence and used the bad writing to her advantage. Still, her more zany and mindless comedic work is lightyears away from this hunk of mess.
I will never be watching St. Vincent again. Though I would never give it a failing score, the effort was there and so was the potential, I just don’t think I can sit through the film once more. Definitely one of the more disappointing release this year.