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If you watch enough movies, it starts to seem like the same stories are repeated over and over. Sometimes, though, a movie manages to infuse a shopworn story with enough creative energy to make it feel new. I found that was the case with St. Vincent.

St. Vincent is the story of Vincent (Bill Murray), a retired Vietnam War vet who spends his days drinking, smoking, and going to racetracks and strip clubs. When Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), move in next door, Vincent stumbles into a babysitting job. He’s desperate for money to settle his debt to a bookie and Maggie is desperate for childcare, as she’s just left her cheating husband and is working overtime to pay for her new life. They’re pretty much stuck with each other. Over time, Vincent and Oliver develop a close bond, as Vincent teaches Oliver how to fight, bet on horses, and plenty of harsh realities. Oliver seems to provide Vincent with some respite from his loneliness. Along the way, we also get to know Daka (Naomi Watts), Vincent’s pregnant “lady of the night,” and Vincent’s wife, Sandy (Donna Mitchell), who has Alzheimer’s and no longer recognizes him.

The plot of St. Vincent is simple enough, and it feels like a pretty standard sentimental story. Curmudgeon bonds with complicated child. Mutual enrichment follows. The highly entertaining events of their relationship are crafted into a cohesive narrative using the arch that in his Catholic school Oliver is learning about how saints are just ordinary people who go to extraordinary lengths to make the world better for the people around them. It’s very sentimental, but forgivable considering how good the rest of the film is.

Given the relatively unoriginal nature of the plot, what really makes the movie is the performances and the characters. Bill Murray is a genius and this role initially doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, but then Vincent suffers a sudden health problem that takes Murray’s performance in an unexpected direction. For me, it was a new side to Murray’s talent and I was impressed with his dramatic abilities as well as his comedic skills. I’ve been a fan of Melissa McCarthy since Gilmore Girls and it was refreshing to see her playing a character that wasn’t as cartoonish as her movie roles of the last three years. She’s wonderfully human and vulnerable in this film. Oliver is Jaeden Lieberher’s first major role and you’d never know it. He holds his own opposite Murray and is both hilarious and emotionally resonant as a scrawny kid trying to cope with a lot of big life changes.

While these characters are brought to life by great talents, the screenplay also does a great job of establishing them as complex people. I think the potentially nauseating sentimentality of the end of the film is seriously tempered by the way the story portrays the characters and their relationships. Rather than revealing to us all at once at the end that Vincent is really a great person who’s just misunderstood, throughout the whole story, the audience witnesses what the other people in the story do not—the small, repeated acts of selflessness that Vincent commits for those around him. He’s still kind of a jerk, but he’s not a terrible person. The same goes for Maggie, who isn’t Mother of the Year, but is really trying. And Daka, who is sweet, but also crass and a bit racist, keeping her out of cliched “hooker with a heart of gold” territory. In short, the people in the film, down to Oliver’s teacher, Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd), can’t be easily characterized as good or bad people. They’re just people. I think this nuance makes the sentimental ending and somewhat tired plot actually work.

For outstanding performances and dialogue, paired with its sentimental ending, I rate St. Vincent 4/5 stars.

St. Vincent was written and directed by Theodore Melfi. It runs 102 minutes and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language.

Kasey Butcher

Kasey Butcher

She is proud to be a Ft. Wayne native, a graduate of Homestead HS, Ball State University & Miami University. She became involved with journalism editor-in-chief for her high school magazine. She authors the "At The Movies with Kasey Butcher" review. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer