Saturday, November 8, 2014

St. Vincent (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

St. Vincent

Bill Murray has played a wide variety of surly and offbeat characters often in his comprehensive career. He is so consistent in this vein, that he has an entire vocabulary of quirk moving through his body.  And, in "St. Vincent" by director Theodore Melfi, the actor doesn't disappoint.

Murray plays Vincent, an aloof and surly man who is a Vietnam vet who has seen much and doesn't care to see much more. One night, he drowsily prepares a slapdash dinner, liberally laced with booze, cutting himself and hitting his head on the fridge and kitchen counter. Vincent falls to the floor, knocked cold and bloody.

He is awakened by loud voices and a single mom Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) coupled with her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Vincent wants nothing to do with Maggie or Oliver. But as Vincent's tree is maimed and his fence is knocked to splinters, he is fatefully involved. Vincent agrees to watch Oliver for a solid fee.

The theme of this film, although executed many times before as the buddy or eccentric mentor film, works perfectly. Murray as a somewhat pickled and smoky character has never been more natural, funny or softly nuanced. The rapport that develops between Murray and newcomer Lieberher feels like life itself.

Oliver is a full fledged character, neither silly, too serious or cynical, but simply a kid, with his own pre-adolescent wishes and fears. Murray too, is patterned with a richness as varied as the many wrinkles on his face. Although often aloof, irritable and tight in a sadness he never loses his sense of ease. His Vincent is akin to a figure in a Tom Waits song drawn with a loose and comic wildness, together with a kind of whimsy found in a Popeye comic that is almost musical. The mere sight of Vincent attempting to dance expresses a range of poetry between the body and mind.

Melissa McCarthy does a wonderful turn in toning down her usual aggressive and uncouth persona and consequently has never been more comical or charming. Chris O' Dowd delivers splendidly as an understated, yet cheerfully sarcastic teacher at a private school and he thankfully eases any nightmares you may have endured since his last eerie portrayal in "Calvalry". Naomi Watts appears as a Russian stripper Daka, although her character feels a bit anemic and  ready made.

The heart of the film, though,  lies in the rich give and take between Murray and Lieberher that mixes together to make a compelling elixir for any ill that assails you.  The film is unpretentiously in the tradition  of films like "My Bodyguard", "Uncle Buck" and "Bad Words". It contains some very textured irreverence  that recalls a less acidic "Bad Santa" and as much good cheer, ( if not more) than  the recent hit "Pride".

Yet the real magic is in the performance of Bill Murray, who makes everything old in this deflated yet entertaining sourpuss, seem new once more.

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