Vincent McKenna (Bill Murray) is, as I mentioned, a cranky old retiree. He’s frequently intoxicated, likes to gamble on horse races, and often enjoys the company of a prostitute named Daka (Naomi Watts). He’s rude, callous, vulgar, and generally unpleasant to be around. Maggie Bronstein (Melissa McCarthy) discovers his demeanor the hard way when her move-in men accidentally damage Vincent’s car, and she receives a vicious verbal beat down. But, through a chain of unfortunate events, Vincent becomes the unlikely babysitter for her young son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). As Oliver spends more time with Vincent, he realizes that the old man may have more of a story than just being the cranky old neighbor.
The best part of this movie by far is the acting. Bill Murray, unsurprisingly, makes the movie. Maybe I’m biased due to my love of Ghostbusters and Wes Anderson films, but I so thoroughly enjoyed Murray in this role. He is perfect both as the drunk yelling at the barkeep and as the sympathetic character who teaches Oliver how to fight after he gets beat up by bullies at his new school. He is able to transition seamlessly between playing the jerkass, making some really funny jokes, and sometimes being a character we can’t help but feel sorry for.
Melissa McCarthy is a welcome surprise in this film. Although most of us have gotten used to her in humorous roles, St. Vincent reminds all of us that she has real acting chops. She plays the struggling single mother, and her character is always played for drama rather than laughs. I didn’t realize that Naomi Watts was in the film before I saw it, so seeing as her as a Russian prostitute was a surprise. She ends up supplying much of St. Vincent’s comic relief, providing ample (and sometimes uncomfortable) laughs. The previously unknown Jaeden Lieberher plays Oliver, and I can safely report that he is one of the few good child actors. There are few worse things in a film than a bad child actor, especially in a prominent role, but Lieberher opposite Murray creates a dynamic that is alternately hilarious and heartwarming.
Now, this is a feel good film. In fact, if not for the Russian prostitute and Murray’s vulgar mouth, it probably would have snagged a PG rating and be marketed as a family film. The film can get a little overly sentimental at times (especially the ending), but it is balanced out by an adequate amount of humor and serious (and not overly sentimental) drama. In the end, St. Vincent is a movie that in a way deconstructs the trope of the cranky old man. Bill Murray shows us we can laugh at that kind of character, but we can also feel with him.