St. Vincent really straddles the line between being genuinely fun and being too hokey for its own good. It’s okay for a film to be formulaic, so long as the dialogue and performances pick up the slack that the plotting leaves, and this film seems to only truly deliver through the vessel of one actor: the ineffable Bill Murray. As per always, Murray is a joy to see on screen, his trademark irreverence toward the world making his humor distinctive and instantly recognizable. Equally impressive is the way that he tinges his cynicism with melancholy, giving depth to a character that would otherwise be just another grumpy old man cliché. And yet, Murray is perhaps the only thing about this film that rises above mediocrity, and that can make a slog of the scenes where he isn’t present.
The plot formula is one we’ve all seen before, with a grumpy older man, the titular Vincent (Murray), finding himself babysitting his new neighbor’s wimpy, nerdy kid. The unlikely pair start to get close, with Vincent teaching the kid to stand up for himself while instilling the vices of gambling and barhopping into his young, yet somehow unshakably pure mind. Meanwhile, the kid’s virtues start to soften Vincent’s heart and demonstrate that he’s not such a bad guy after all, and yeah, you can see the other trite plot details coming from a mile away.
Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if the writing were solid, but it mostly isn’t. Vincent as a written character seems to be closer to Dennis the Menace’s Mr. Wilson than the persona we normally see Murray adopt, and the only reason Vincent is made even remotely funny is through the sheer force of Murray’s expert delivery. Every other character feels fresh from the factory, from the saccharinely sweet child character, to the overworked, barely-making-ends-meet divorced mom, to Vincent’s pregnant prostitute girlfriend, who may sound like an original character, but mostly serves the role of being Vincent’s non-child confidant. It all feels so formulaic that there doesn’t really seem to be a point to the film other than seeing Murray make what should have been a forgettable role into the only standout performance in the whole production.
And, unfortunately, that’s ultimately what makes this one a loser as far as I’m concerned, because by the film’s latter half, Murray’s wise-cracking amoralisms take a backseat to the aggrandizement of Vincent’s better qualities, which ultimately makes him a more boring character than he was before. The film’s climax is literally the kid character giving a speech about all of Vincent’s great qualities and why, even though he is a jerk, deep down Vincent is still a great man. All the build-up for that scene is so devoid of comedy, including a forced stroke-and-recovery mini-arc for Murray to suffer through, that it sucks the life out of what had until then been a passable exercise in traditionalism.
I’d really only recommend this for the die-hard Bill Murray fans, for you are the people most likely to at least glean some worthy enjoyment from his persona. However, the film’s plot is so full of cliché and overused tropes that there really doesn’t seem to be much of a point to it beyond its star’s performance, and even that is given the short shrift by the end.
Have a favorite Bill Murray film? Tell us in the comments below.