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Santa Maria Sun / Film

This weeks review

'St. Vincent' delivers laughs, tears, and lots of heart!




Where is it playing?: Santa Maria 10

What's it rated?: PG-13

What's it worth?: $10.00 (Anna)

What's it worth?: $10.00 (Glen)

User Rating: 0.00 (0 Votes)

Writer-director Theodore Melfi (in his feature-length debut) helms this story about a misanthropic war vet (Bill Murray) who befriends a young neighbor boy (Jaeden Lieberher) whose parents recently divorced. (102 min.)


Glen: This is familiar ground: A grouch finds his heart after he’s thrown together with a young kid. Fine writing from writer-director Theodore Melfi and some excellent performances elevate it beyond its cliché trappings. Bill Murray’s Vincent is an angry drunk, degenerate gambler, thief, and liar. He’s pretty hard to like, even though he’s Bill “Freaking” Murray, who seems to be mostly pulling off an East Coast accent that’s part Boston part Brooklyn. Newcomer Jaeden Lieberher’s Oliver is a smart, frail, but sweet kid adrift between his philandering father (David, played by Scott Adsit, who turns up halfway through the film to try to win custody) and his struggling and frayed mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy, in vulnerable mode). Then you’ve got Daka (Naomi Watts) as Vincent’s pregnant Russian Tuesday afternoon hooker; Brother Geraghty (a perfectly cast Chris O’Dowd) as Oliver’s slightly exasperated liberal Catholic teacher; and Zucko (Terrence Howard) as Vincent’s fed-up loan shark. Vincent lives in a reverse-mortgaged dilapidated house and drives a beat up ’82 Chrysler LeBaron with fake wood paneling. His dress code and hygiene habits would make Jeffery “The Dude” Lebowski look fancy. He’s about on his final swirl down the toilet bowl, and he’s only looking after Oliver because he sees in his mom some easy “babysitting” money. Of course, Vincent doesn’t let his new responsibility get in the way of his lifestyle, and we see him and Oliver on outings to the racetrack, the bar, and a nursing home that Vincent mysteriously visits regularly to drop off laundry and see a patient under the guise of a doctor. Clearly, there’s more to Vincent than meets the eye, but his and Oliver’s budding mentor/protégé relationship sours thanks to the upcoming custody hearing (and their poorly conceived outings) at about the same time Zucko decides it’s time to collect his money, one way or another. It would spoil the fun to reveal where the film goes from here, but suffice it to say, you end up where you expected, but the road there may surprise you. I really liked this film!

Anna: This is a really sweet film, and it manages to stay away from becoming too saccharine. I thought Jaeden Lieberher was an adorable and talented choice to play Oliver, a kid who is small but mighty, and tough not to love, even for a hard-ass like Vincent. Even though Bill Murray knows he can stamp his name on something and it’s guaranteed at least mildly wild success, he doesn’t use it as an excuse not to bring another great performance to the screen. Vincent is dirty both in body and mind, selfish, seemingly detached, and pretty tough to love, as well as get to know. His relationship with new neighbors Maggie and Oliver gets off to a rough start when the moving company Maggie hired does damage to his precious car. He’s driven by money, of which he has none and owes lots. He shows no qualms hitting the horse track or the bar with a kid in tow, teaching him to fight, and penny pinching hard-working Maggie for every minute he watches Oliver. While he’s all rough on the exterior, we also see how caring he is for those who matter to him. Caring for an ailing Alzheimer’s patient, paying for Daka’s ultrasound when she couldn’t afford it, teaching Oliver to defend himself against bigger kids and bullies at school. As the movie progresses, we get to see more and more glimpses of a small but present soft underbelly on Vincent.

Glen: You’re right that these kinds of stories can easily drift into treacle-draped sap, and for the hardest of hearts, even this film may. It’s ultimately a feel-good story with a Hollywood ending, and you know where it’s headed from the moment Vincent and Oliver meet, but there are so many good side stories that add to, rather than distract from, the main plot. Oliver finds himself the victim of a trio of bullies led by Ocinski (Dario Barosso), but thanks to Vincent’s self-defense tutelage, Oliver gains some confidence and a friend. There’s plenty of humor and heart in all the scenes with Brother Geraghty, whether they’re with Oliver and his classmates or Oliver’s mom, Maggie. I guess I could argue that Naomi Watts plays Daka a bit too broadly, but she is, after all, a real broad, if you know what I mean. In the end, we see Vincent doesn’t have a lot of friends because he’s simply not friendly, but for those who get to know Vincent, they begrudgingly love him, and for that, you can thank Bill Murray. 

Anna He is a charmer, that Bill. While pretty darn predictable, this movie is funny, sweet, and makes the audience leave with a smile and perhaps a tear in their eye. These are funny people. Murray isn’t the only one bringing the laughs. McCarthy’s Maggie is a quieter role than many of hers, and she manages to keep the subtle humor coming as she banters back and forth with Vincent. I loved the character of Brother Geraghty, and Watts’ no nonsense Russian prostitute was a good sidekick for Vincent. All in all, even though it may be a tried and true plot line, this film has heart and soul while keeping the laughs coming.


Split Screen is written by Sun contributor and New Times staff writer Glen Starkey and his wife Anna. Comment at