by Ken Carrell
TL;DR – If you’re a fan of the classic old-bitter-geezer-turned-nice-by-a-small-child premise, you may like this one. It’s not intended for everyone, seeming to be geared toward an older audience, but even the younger crowd will enjoy the few funny moments that pop up here and there. It takes itself far more seriously than a comedy ought to but the chemistry that Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher share on screen more than makes up for the lack of jokes.
I don’t think this movie was intended for my audience. That being said, I still enjoyed it. It definitely did more things right than it did wrong. St. Vincent definitely isn’t the first movie to use the premise of pairing up a child and a hardened old geezer turned bitter by the bad things in life and it probably won’t be the last. And why would it? It’s a premise as old as time and as long as Hollywood takes care to not inundate the populace with too many films with it, it’ll arguably never get old. St. Vincent takes a somewhat unique approach to the idea, making it a fun film, if not necessarily family-friendly. Let me start with the bad, so we can end on a high note.
It became abundantly clear after about 2/3 of the way through that this film probably has a higher than average number of deleted scenes. This isn’t terribly unusual for a comedy since test audiences will usually tell the filmmakers, which scenes aren’t funny so they can be axed before the official release. But too much cutting will, unsurprisingly, cut right into the story. The whole story is there; everything you need to follow the twists and turns of these wacky characters is included. But some parts are very underdeveloped, leading to some faint confusion as you try to piece together what the filmmakers should be filling in for the audience; too much work yanks us out the story…that’s Story Development 101. I’d like to believe that Theodore Melfi is a good writer and wrote these parts into the script, but they got axed in post-production.
The other issue with the story is that it unfolds kind of wonkily in some parts (is that even a word?). Without giving anything away, one event is supposed to set a string of other events to occur afterward. But after that event, the string that’s meant to follow is held in suspension while other parts of the story are revealed. There are also time-issues that lead to an inorganic-y feel (a kid gets bullied by another kid in one scene and they’re best friends in the next…mm…I’m skeptical).
Where the film really shines is in its players. Bill Murray plays the title role and does surprisingly well considering that it’s not really a Bill Murray role. Could someone else have done it better? Maybe. Did Bill Murray do it justice? Absolutely. It’s a somewhat “everyman” role for the archetypical bitter old geezer and if De Niro had a better comedic track record he probably could have done it just as well. But I liked Murray’s performance, especially in the parts where just a little bit more acting than normal is required.
The real shining star of the film, however, is Jaeden Lieberher. In his film debut, Melfi took a risk by bringing in someone with very little acting experience (at least from a film standpoint) but it was a risk well worth the reward. Is it the most polished performance? Not at all. But for a kid with no previous track record, he does damn good (even managing a few tears at one point). I hope this film will lead to a long a fruitful career for him as he has shown some serious potential with this one.
Melissa McCarthy, unfortunately, gets very little screen time and very little of the comedic juice that gives us those burst out moments. She probably gets the biggest laugh in the entire film, but it’s essentially her only one. Sadly, her character is a walking stereotype of the works-too-much mom that just went through a divorce. An unimaginative character for an actress that could do so much more.
Is St. Vincent the best comedy ever made? No. Comparatively, they go for very few jokes. Where most comedies nowadays aim for every joke they can swing for and cherish the ones that stick, St. Vincent never swings for a joke they can’t make, even when it looks like they’re about to. In places where a joke might seem to be, the actors seem to sense that it won’t land and so they go the serious route instead. It makes for very few jokes (and a comedy film that feels very serious throughout) but the ones that they do make? Oh boy do they ever land. This film is definitely worth the watch.